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Drug Prevention Costs Less Than Enforcement

The debate over how to best combat drug use in San Diego County has taken a shift toward prevention over enforcement. County officials and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) conducted a study that followed a single meth user starting at age 14. After eight years of following a pattern of drug abuse, crime, and incarceration, the subject known as "Dan," 31, cost county taxpayers more than $190,000.

During that time, Dan received minimal treatment for his addiction, which led to relapses into further meth abuse and crime. Dan is serving two years in a state prison.

In contrast to Dan’s story, the County Office of Health and Human Services presented a treatment success story. Christina Manis, 27, spent 10 years of her life in a situation similar to Dan’s. She has been clean since 2009, is employed and an advocate for meth treatment -- the defining factor that led to the end of a life of meth abuse, auto theft and burglary.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that in Dan’s case, stints in prison over the course of the last eight years cost exponentially more than any preventative or intervention measures.

“The treatment and prevention programs are critical,” Jacob said, “If we can keep that 14 year old out of a drug habit, we’re going to save that life early on and get that individual on the right track to becoming a productive member of society, not a costly burden on taxpayers.”

Cynthia Burke with SANDAG said, “half of the $190,000 spent on Dan went just into putting him in custody, 2 percent went to treatment. But he had an issue that wasn’t going away just by locking him up in jail.”

Jacob added that, "the more we can invest in prevention and intervention, the more we’ll save on the other end. The cost of jail time and law enforcement is far more expensive.”

San Diego has come a long way from being the “Meth Capital of the World,” Jacob said.

According to the county’s study, the number of arrests for meth sales and possession has been cut in half over the last five years. The same can be said about meth-related deaths and those who tested positive for the drug during an unrelated arrest. Admissions into meth-treatment programs have also dropped by 17 percent, along with a 39 percent drop in meth-lab seizures and clean-ups.

While these numbers cast a positive outlook on the meth situation in the county, not all is well. Production of methamphetamines in Mexico by the cartels and seizures of their product at the border have significantly spiked.

In a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, the seizures of meth labs in California have seen a sharp decline over the past six years, from 789 in 2004 to 170 in 2010. This may be due to the fact that the key components of methamphetamine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, are increasingly harder to acquire in the United States, whereas Mexican drug cartels import the chemicals from China and India.

In San Diego County, officials encourage meth users and those who suspect meth activities to contact the Meth Hotline at 1-877-NO2METH or visit www.no2meth.org.

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