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Heroin Use Rises In San Diego County

The use of heroin has risen over the past decade in San Diego County, according to a study released today.

The report by the San Diego Association of Governments Criminal Justice Research Division found that the portion of adult men and women booked into county jails who tested positive for opiates doubled between 2002 and 2012.

Use of opiates, which include heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and Codeine, went from 5 to 10 percent among men and 6 to 12 percent among women, the study found.

"There is strong evidence that the recent increase in heroin use is driven in part by the growing abuse of prescription painkillers,'' said SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research Cynthia Burke. "From interviews with people in jail we learned that heroin is often used as a substitute for prescription opiates because it's relatively cheap and easy to obtain.''

She said drug use trends among inmates are a good barometer of what's happening with the wider population.

"Our findings are consistent with other countywide statistics on the rise of heroin seizures, drug treatment admissions, and deaths due to heroin overdose,'' Burke said. "So it's critical to monitor and address this issue through a comprehensive strategy.''

Young adults ages 18-24 were more likely to test positive for opiates than older adults for the first time last year, 14 percent compared to 12 percent for those 25-39 and 8 percent for those 40 and over, according to SANDAG.

The study also found that:

— The percentage of inmates who reported having ever used heroin went from 17 in 2002 to 26 in 2012, and the portion of those who had used the drug in the 30 days before their arrest rose 16 points to 42 percent;

— 79 percent of those booked into jail said heroin was easy or very easy to get;

— 27 percent of those who ever tried heroin reported using prescription opiates before trying heroin, and 63 percent of them said heroin became a substitute, often because of increased availability and cheaper cost;

— Between 2007 and 2012, the number of annual seizures of heroin at San Diego County border crossings climbed from 111 to 470;

— The number of heroin overdose deaths rose from 57 in 2007 to 74 last year.

The SANDAG study was based on interviews with 854 inmates at the Central Jail, Vista Detention Facility and Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility.

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