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Report: Drug Use Among San Diego County Arrestees Reached 20-Year-High In 2019

The San Diego Central Jail on Front Street, August 7, 2018.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: The San Diego Central Jail on Front Street, August 7, 2018.

Drug use reached a 20-year high among men and women arrested and booked into San Diego County detention facilities in 2019, according to a report released Thursday by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Nearly four in five male arrestees (79%) and 82% of female arrestees tested positive for at least one of the following drugs: marijuana, methamphetamines, opiates, cocaine/crack and PCP, according to the report by SANDAG's Criminal Justice Research Division.

The lowest rates in the past 20 years for arrestees testing positive were in 2009 for men (56%) and 2008 for women (58%).

Meth showed up the most in the survey results in 2019, with 66% of women and 55% of men testing positive for the drug, according to the report. Those rates were also 20-year highs and were up 4% among women compared to 2018. The rate among men remained unchanged from 2018 to 2019.

On average, meth-using arrestees in 2019 reported using the drug for about 15 years, using before their 22nd birthday and using more than 19 days in a row over the last 30 days.

The surveys also found that 36% of arrestees tested positive for multiple drugs, 65% reported ever being homeless and 83% reported being arrested at least one other time in the past.

When arrestees tested positive for multiple drugs, it was most often meth and marijuana, according to the report. Of those who tested positive for multiple drugs, 59% were white, 79% had been homeless in the past and 44% had been diagnosed with a mental illness.

"While the population of individuals booked into our facilities has changed over time, these statistics are sobering, and indicate the continued need to address underlying risks and the need to stop the revolving door of incarceration," said Cynthia Burke, SANDAG's director of research and program management.

Slightly over a quarter of arrestees reported that they thought a drug they had used contained fentanyl, given the effects they experienced. Just above one in five arrestees reported that they had overdosed in the past and 56% of those reported being administered naloxone — also known as Narcan — to reverse the effects of a drug overdose.

Since 2000, SANDAG has conducted interviews in detention facilities throughout San Diego County and asked arrestees to participate in confidential and anonymous interviews.

Other interesting findings among arrestees in 2019 included:

  • nearly one in five (18%) of arrestees reported being approached to bring drugs across the border;
  • marijuana was the drug most commonly tried by arrestees (90%) and was also tried at the earliest age (14.9) — roughly five years earlier that any other drug;
  • meth was tried by more than two-thirds of arrestees and 84% of those users reported using it within the last year; and
  • one in three arrestees reported that they had committed a crime to support a drug habit.


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