Study finds heroin use on rise among those arrested in San Diego

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Heroin powder

SAN DIEGO — Heroin use among people arrested last year in the region reached its highest level since officials started keeping track in 2000, the San Diego Association of Governments reported Thursday.

The local increase in abuse of the opiate, discovered in a broader study of people arrested in 2014, mirrors a sharp rise nationally that prompted President Barack Obama this week to order a heightened effort to battle heroin trafficking in the Northeast.

According to the SANDAG data, 15 percent of women and 13 percent of men arrested in San Diego County last year tested positive for heroin or some sort of opiate.

That compares to a 5 percent rate for all arrestees in 2002, which was far below the percentage found in other large cities at the time. The San Diego rate is now comparable to other big city metropolitan areas, according to the regional planning agency.

Women reported using the drug almost twice as often — 15.3 days per week, compared to 8.7.

Among other findings by SANDAG:

— 20 percent of white arrestees tested positive for heroin/opiates, compared to 9 percent of Hispanics and 6 percent of blacks;

— 83 percent of those who tested positive for opiates also tested positive for methamphetamine and 46 percent tested positive for marijuana;

— 72 percent of those who tested positive reported having abused prescription medication in the past, with 88 percent of them saying heroin was a substitute for prescription drugs;

— 63 percent of heroin users injected the drug, and 43 percent shared their needles;

— 73 percent of those who used opiates had been homeless at some point in their lives, compared to 58 percent of other arrestees; and

— 51 percent of the opiate users said they had overdosed in the past, compared to 13 percent of other arrestees.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office says heroin is the drug most frequently involved in unintentional deaths in the region since 2005-06, according to SANDAG.

The study was the result of interviews with 100 heroin users and 646 arrestees who did not test positive for the drug.

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