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ME Report: Suicides, Fentanyl Deaths Rose Countywide In 2018

Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Steven Campman is interviewed by KPBS at the Sa...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Steven Campman is interviewed by KPBS at the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, March 25, 2019.

Suicides, accidental deaths and fentanyl overdose deaths in San Diego County rose in 2018, according to an annual report released Monday by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.

More than 22,000 people died countywide last year, and 8,346 of those deaths were investigated by the Medical Examiner's Office. Investigations found that more than 5,000 examined deaths were due to natural causes and roughly 3,200 required a full review, according to the report.

Suicides rose from 458 in 2017 to 465 last year, while accidental deaths — including drug and alcohol overdoses, falls, traffic deaths, drowning and more — rose from 1,522 to 1,583. The increase in suicides continued a decade-long 13% increase in the county's number of suicides, accounting for population growth.

Roughly 16% of the county's 577 deaths due to overdoses were related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2016, fentanyl deaths in the county have risen from 33 to 92.

"We publish these numbers in this report and through the county's Open Data Portal to give us all opportunities to learn about injuries and illnesses, find ways to address risks and hopefully, save lives in the future," said county Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner.

Other statistics in the report included an increase in vehicle deaths from 292 in 2017 to 316 last year, while 235 people were killed with guns — 174 by suicide and the rest in homicides. Men made up 68% of deaths investigated by the Medical Examiner's Office in 2018.

County officials will use the report's data to tailor its health initiatives and task forces on issues like suicide, elder abuse, domestic violence and drug addiction.

"The dead present us with an opportunity to learn from their story," Wagner said. "A story worth telling."

Wagner also advised residents who may be struggling with depression or are worried that a loved one may be struggling to contact the county's behavioral health hotline at 888-724-7240 or visit the county's "It's Up to Us" web page at


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