DA calls San Diego ‘ground zero’ for meth crisis as drug-related deaths increase

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SAN DIEGO — Drug use and drug-related deaths are on the rise across the U.S. as well as in San Diego County.

County leaders Tuesday released the 2021 Meth and Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force Report Card.

“San Diego is ground zero for the Methamphetamine Crisis,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

Dr. Luke Bergmann, San Diego County Behavioral Health Services Director, pointed out that in 2020 there were 722 methamphetamine-related deaths. The increase in meth-related deaths was a 32% jump from the previous year.

“Behind each number are multiple lives, individuals, families friends, real people,” Dr. Bergmann said.

The 2021 Meth Report Card also shows:

  • 566 men and 156 women died because of meth.
  • There were 16,309 emergency room visits due to methamphetamines in 2019 compared to 13,020 in 2018. Data from 2020 will be available in 2022.
  • A total of 4,740 people were admitted to County-funded treatment programs due to meth abuse last year, vs. 6,591 in 2019.
  • 56% of adult arrestees tested positive for meth in 2020, compared to 59% the previous year.
  • 8% of juvenile arrestees tested positive for meth in 2020, compared to 11% in 2019.
  • Arrests for selling and possession of meth decreased to 7,211 compared to 11,313 in 2019.

While the Meth Strike Force successfully shut down many meth manufacturing operations in San Diego, Stephan said there is a bigger problem.

“We are unable to stop the meth funneling through the border,” she explained. “Six weeks ago, federal law enforcement officers found more than 5,500 pounds of methamphetamine and 110 pounds of fentanyl.”

County Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Holly Porter added that border meth seizures have increased by 23%.

“We know that drug traffickers will stop at nothing to get their products into our communities,” Porter said.

Stephan said there is a direct tie between methamphetamine and violent crime, which has increased by 18.8% in city limits.

“Crime and methamphetamine are highly interlinked,” she said. “For law enforcement, one of the reasons we focus on methamphetamine is that it is the drug most linked to violent crime.”

Stephan said 56% of all people booked into jail have meth in their systems.

Also on Tuesday, the Prescription Drug Report Card was released by county leaders.

In addition to deaths, the Prescription Drug Report Card tracks additional key indicators of opioid misuse in the region. It also shows the following (most recent years for which numbers are available vary by statistic):

  • 430 men and 146 women died from prescription drugs.
  • 7,723 visits to local emergency rooms in 2019, compared to 6,162 in 2018. Data for last year is not yet available.
  • 10% of 11th graders reported prescription drug use in 2019, the same percent as in 2017. The survey is done every two years.
  • 46% of adults arrested reported misusing prescription drugs in 2020, the same as the year before.

However, there was some reassuring news in the Meth and Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force Report Card. Harm caused by prescription drugs has decreased and more people are self-reporting addiction concerns when it comes to prescription medication.

Substance use treatment resources are available by calling the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or 2-1-1.

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