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Report shows increase in San Diego meth-related deaths

SAN DIEGO – Methamphetamine abuse contributed to a record number of deaths in the San Diego area last year, according to a government study released Monday.

A total of 377 fatalities linked to the highly addictive drug occurred locally in 2016, on average one every 23 hours, the report by the San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force reveals. The tally was the highest in a single year and 66 more than in 2015.

“The trend line is very alarming and continues to head in the wrong direction,” said Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors. “Meth is taking a terrible toll on more and more San Diego families, and we must step up our efforts to fight this killer and connect more people with treatment programs.”

Among other findings in the document:

— There were 12,595 emergency room visits due to methamphetamine in 2015, compared with 10,254 in 2014 (data from 2016 will not be available until next year);

— A total of 4,689 people were admitted to county-funded treatment programs due to abuse of the narcotic last year, vs. 4,564 in 2015;

— Fifty-six percent of adult arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine in 2016, as compared with 49 percent the previous year;

— The number of juvenile arrestees jumped from 8 percent in 2015 to 14 percent in 2016;

— Arrests for selling and possession of methamphetamine increased to 8,428 in 2016 from 6,849 the year before; and

— The price of the illegal substance dropped from $360-$600 per ounce in 2015 to $250-$450 last year.

San Diego County has had a long history with methamphetamine and the problems that come with it. While no longer considered the “meth capital of the world” as it had been decades ago, authorities say the region has more of the drug available than in prior years, and it is more potent and cheaper than ever.

The highly addictive and often deadly narcotic is being manufactured and smuggled into the country by Mexican drug cartels. Monday, most of the methamphetamine in San Diego County comes from south of the border.

In addition to prosecuting smugglers, some of whom use children to transport methamphetamine, law enforcement is focusing on dealers who distribute the drug in local neighborhoods. Prosecutors review overdose death cases, identifying the involved dealers and holding them accountable for their actions when someone dies, and programs like Drug Court, Veterans Court and Homeless Court offer abusers avenues for getting clean and sober.

“Sending addicts to jail or prison without addressing their addiction problems does not solve the drug problem in our community,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

“The increased availability and potency have contributed to more meth- related deaths, more emergency room visits and more problems for individual users and their families,” said Nick Macchione, director of the county Health and Human Services Agency. “Many of the people who are dying are middle age, have been using meth for a long time and also have other serious health conditions.”

The county funds residential and outpatient treatment programs across the region to help people recover from addiction.

“Drug treatment is available, and recovery is possible,” said Alfredo Aguirre, director of the HHSA Behavioral Health Services. “Family members and loved ones should know that treatment can improve lives.”

People experiencing a drug addiction or who want to anonymously report drug activity are encouraged to call (877) NO-2-METH or visit the website Treatment is also available via the county Access and Crisis Line, (888) 724-7240, or by calling 211.