San Diego's Methamphetamine Problem
KPBS Roundtable / May 10, 2019
Methamphetamine addiction remains a chronic problem in San Diego. What's contributing to it.
Speaker 1: 00:01 San Diego was once known as the methamphetamine capital of the world. How meth manufacturing change to meth smuggling, the deadly Ebola virus reappears and parts of Africa, but San Diego researchers are working on a cure and as the board of supervisors changing its political direction as we head into the next election cycle, I mark Sauer the KPBS roundtables starts now.
Speaker 2: 00:32 Okay,
Speaker 1: 00:35 welcome DOR. Discussion of the week's top stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today, reporter Charles Clarke, who covers county government or the San Diego Union Tribune, KPBS hell health reporter, Susan Murphy and Investigated Producer Time Jones of NBC seven San Diego. Well, it was a moniker on the flip side of America's finest city, San Diego, methamphetamine capital of the world. That meth capital label surfaced in the 1980s then came a significant decrease in manufacturing and use of the deadly drug here in the decades that followed. But now methods back with a vengeance. Of course, drug enforcement agents are calling San Diego Ground Zero in the nation's battle with a meth abuse. And let's start there. Tom explained how the meth crisis, uh, in the 1980s differed from the alone learn being sanded now on this terrible drug that's affecting so many people in their family.
Speaker 3: 01:30 Yeah. So San Diego got that label of meth capital of the world because of these makeshift labs, like home labs, you know, that kind of a thing. And they, these labs, we're across the country. Um, but in 2005, 2006, Congress passed a law, the combat methamphetamine act that basically made it harder to get some of the chemicals that over the counter chemicals that these meth labs would use. Um, so meth labs across the country have gone down. I mean, in, in 2004, there were like 23,000 lab incidents nationwide. Um, by 2017, there are only 3000. Um, so,
Speaker 1: 02:11 but we'd have explosions and fires and things that happened in the
Speaker 3: 02:15 right. And so the math lab, the production here in the US went down, but there's still a lot of math coming into the country.
Speaker 1: 02:23 Yeah. And that kind of explains how it went from, as you say, domestic manufacturing to a, this whole sense of a smuggling. And that's the new story, right?
Speaker 3: 02:33 Right. Yeah. So the Drug Enforcement Agency as well as a, you know, customs and border protection, they say that these super labs, uh, are our hours away and not like a hundreds of miles away in Mexico. And they're making this meth in huge quantities and in smuggling across the border by, by air, you know, we've seen incidents like them using drones, um, by people you know, coming or in cars and tires. Um, and then by sea as well. So it's, it's being smuggled across in huge amounts. I mean,
Speaker 1: 03:06 yeah, give us a sense of the, the numbers there and your story. We're reading,
Speaker 3: 03:10 right? So in 2013, all law enforcement agencies in San Diego County, so not just federal, but local as well. A 2013, 13,000 pounds of Meth by last year, 2018 over 45,000 pounds of Meth CS.
Speaker 1: 03:27 Wow. That's dramatic. And just this week, I think yesterday that you need Tribune had a story just this week. I think there was another 25 pounds that were caught in a chase on one of the, one of the roadways.
Speaker 3: 03:36 Right, exactly. I mean we found one day where, you know, over the course of 24 hours, you know, nearly 400 pounds of meth was seized in different, uh, separate incident.
Speaker 1: 03:47 That's remarkable. And the uh, the nature of math itself has changed. Right?
Speaker 3: 03:53 Right. So, and reporting this, we got the opportunity to go to this lab and Vista and uh, the fact that we didn't know is that all drugs seized by federal law enforcement go in the southwestern part of the u s so Arizona and New Mexico and Nevada, California, it all goes through this lab in Vista and that's where it's tested for its composition, its purity. And the chemist there told us that, you know, five, 10 years ago, math coming through was like 80% pure. Now it's most ugly all the time, 99 100% pure. So that makes it a lot more dangerous.
Speaker 1: 04:30 Deadly. So a user is going to get maybe a shot that he or she just wasn't expecting at all. In terms of risk of overdose.
Speaker 3: 04:38 Right, exactly. And that kind of led us to looking at deaths and San Diego County. And again, it's like every turn in this story, we just found these numbers that were startling. So the medical examiner recently put out like 21 years worth of death records. Um, and we found from 1997 to 2018 a 430% increase in people dying from meth. That's Meth as a cause of death or contributing condition, um, noted in their death.
Speaker 1: 05:09 Very dramatic. And that's why they're calling at ground zero here. That's where the problem is. Right? Right.
Speaker 3: 05:15 Exactly. Yeah. And it's then much of it is filled with the Dudley phentenol as well, right? Yeah. So most of those deaths that I was just talking about from 1997 to 2018 a lot of them had fentanyl. They were, it was combined. Um, same thing with like heroin, I guess they find meth and heroin combines and some alcohol as well. So you already have this dangerous drug that's pure than ever before. You combine it with these other substances, it's, it's not good.
Speaker 1: 05:42 And so you mentioned the, the number of, uh, of death shear and of course we should note for every death year those whole family devastated a network of friends. It's many more people than simply the, uh, the victim in these cases. Uh, but another metric, those entering treatment programs, right, right. And your story talked about that.
Speaker 3: 06:00 Yeah. So, um, the county back in [inaudible] 90, 1996, when they were kind of figuring out how to deal with this problem here locally, they created this meth strike force and basically it's a coalition of 70 local federal state agencies. And uh, what they told us is that a third of all the people going into publicly funded treatment programs, it's for meth abuse. And yes, treatment is kind of the number one thing for those who are on the front lines of this fight. They say it comes down, the treatment comes down to treating substance abuse like a disease, like a health problem, not just a, a criminal problem.
Speaker 1: 06:42 And, uh, I did the, I was getting a little ahead of myself, but that does set up a, a bike we have from your, your story at NBC seven on this and a, this was from Elon Burns, substance abuse council, recovering addict himself. He believes the answer, as you say, is treating it as, as a disease. Let's hear a little of that.
Speaker 4: 07:01 There's still this thought and this idea out there that, oh, you must be a bad person. You must be a broken person. And as long as there is, there's going to be denial of the people that have it and denial the family around it to see it.
Speaker 1: 07:16 And that's what he's talking about. Uh, do you know how effective the treatment is? I know that relapse is a serious problem for anybody going into, uh, into Rehab.
Speaker 3: 07:25 Right? Well, that's the thing with math. You know, we've been focused on opioids, you know, very much so for the past couple of years or so. But, um, with opioid abuse, you know, there are drugs that you can take while getting off of opioids, like Methadone or suboxone or there's, there's different treatment to cap. Math doesn't have anything like that. Um, so really it comes down to therapy. Um, a good support system. Family support is really crucial. Um, but yeah, I mean that's, that's kind of the only way to really combat it.
Speaker 1: 07:57 And your story also a noted that the certain parts of the county, the problem is, is kind of a worse in certain communities, which are some of the ones that are really struggling with,
Speaker 3: 08:06 right? So the way for us to kind of measure that was one deaths, but to arrest. Um, and what we saw with deaths is, you know, San Diego had the most deaths, but the largest, biggest city in the country. Right. So, um, but in La Mesa, um, per capita, four out of every thousand people died from a math related because from 1997 to 2018. So what are some of the ways that they're trying to combat this problem? I know security at the border seems like it's really intense, really right. Increased. So what are some of those measures? Well, like I was just bringing up arrest law enforcements, uh, in a response to this has grown dramatically. We saw, you know, there were uh, about, you know, um, the, the number of people being arrested and charged for methods grown like 700% as far as prosecutions filed in federal court. Um, so at the load coming across the border has soared as well, so. Right, exactly. Um, so it's still coming through in other ways. I mean, if they're, if they're seizing that much math coming across the border, then you can't imagine how much it actually, cause it's still getting into the country, obviously. Right.
Speaker 1: 09:16 Well, it's a terrific story and I encourage anybody, everybody to go to your website or to keep pbs.org where all our stories are posted and take a look at it and it's terrific reporting. We'll look for follow ups on that story. We're going to move on. We'll since last August and outbreak of Ebola virus is killed a thousand people in the Republic of Congo most in the past few weeks. And that's a fraction of the 11,000 people killed by a similar outbreak in 2013. The difference could be a vaccine developed by San Diego researchers, but many questions remain and much more research needs to be done. And Susan, let's start with this disease. What is a Ebola? Why is it so deadly?
Speaker 5: 09:52 So Ebola is a highly contagious disease. It starts with the symptoms start with fever, body aches and it leads to severe diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhaging and it spreads through bodily fluids. Um, as you mentioned, the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are now the World Health Organization reports. There are 1600 cases and 1100 deaths. So it is surging. Um, they are working hard to keep it contained to two provinces, but um, there's a lot of civil unrest in the region, a lot of armed militia that are attacking some of the health workers and interrupting the vaccine campaign. So they are there. The concerns are growing, right?
Speaker 1: 10:36 Yeah. So it makes it very difficult to get in and work with people and, and get data and of course get directly to them with, with a vaccine. So tell us about the scientists here in the back seat work they're doing to a combat, uh, this and other potential Ebola outbreaks.
Speaker 5: 10:51 So there's a researcher, her name is Erica Allman Sapphire. She's been studying this disease for many years. She has a, she, she's a professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology. And she also directs a consortium of Ebola researchers worldwide. And she is studying the effectiveness of this vaccine, basically taking samples of people who have been vaccinated, taking samples of people who have come into contact with Ebola and figuring out kind of the molecules and molecular structure of the virus, where to target a vaccine and um, how the animal, how people are, are building up natural antibodies to fight the disease
Speaker 1: 11:31 from in dealing with the survivors who are really the, uh, the key elements of figuring out the vaccine side of it. Right,
Speaker 5: 11:37 right. And so there have been 100,000 people in the region who have been vaccinated and have those people who have been vaccinated. They know that 15 people have contracted the virus. So they're trying to figure out the effectiveness. So out of the hundred thousand people, how many people were were or were there, you know? Right. And how are they going to get that data? And so that's, that's kind of the work in progress right now. They're, they're studying the samples. They have teams that fly in to collect the samples. They bring them back. They say they're studying, they're using high resolution images to study, map out the virus.
Speaker 1: 12:14 Well that does bring us to a sound bite from your, your interview here and I'll let you set that up. What exactly is a researcher talking? Yeah.
Speaker 5: 12:21 So Eric Coleman Sapphire is talking about how they're studying this virus using these high resolution images. And she kind of relates it to military intelligence, photos and tear sheets.
Speaker 3: 12:34 We take these high resolution photographs to figure out how it is the virus infect, where is it vulnerable, where can we target a therapeutic or how do we design a vaccine that's going to beautifully mimic this virus and give a person immunity before they get exposed.
Speaker 5: 12:52 Okay.
Speaker 1: 12:52 And they're only talking so far about one strain of this deadly virus. Right? There are other strange,
Speaker 5: 12:58 so the strain is called the Zaire, uh, kind of Ebola. And it surfaced if you'll recall in 2013 when the last, the outbreak occurred in Africa of they believe it started with patient zero was an 18 month old baby who contracted the virus from a bat according to the Centers for disease control. Uh, so there are at least five other strains of Ebola quietly circulating in the region. Um, some are found in pigs, other primates in sex and such. Um, so they just don't know which strain could evolve. Next, Erica Almond Sapphire says they all have pandemic potential. And so while they have a vaccine that could be effective against this Zaire kind that's currently circulating, um, there is nothing right now to, um, defend against any of these other Ebola, you know, strains. So she's working on kind of a, trying to develop a universal Ebola vaccine or therapeutic that could target, you know, a universal, you know, all six or more of the Ebola virus.
Speaker 5: 13:58 Right. So I'm curious, have we seen evil expand beyond the African continent at all? I mean, as far as the different strands. So there are concerns that it is in Africa right now as they are concerned though it's right now it's spreading in two provinces that are up against Uganda and Rwanda. It's, um, near these very large population centers. Um, 8 million people in the region. There's a million refugees, so they are trying to contain it. Um, if you recall, in 2014, 26, 2016, there were 11 patients who came to the United States to be treated as well. So people travel, um, with the UN, with the civil unrest, you know, they're just, there's concerns are growing. Yes.
Speaker 1: 14:40 Just to moving all the time with all the, with the political problems that are happening in that. It's, I mean, it's remarkable in such a interconnected world is we have, and with, with, of course jet travel everywhere and as you say, 8 million people in that region in particular, it's remarkable that we haven't seen it elsewhere.
Speaker 5: 14:56 Right. And so the difference this time is this vaccine. And so they have the strategy to make circles around each person whose contracts Ebola. So the, the health workers, the contacts, the contacts of the contacts, but they are having trouble with that as well. Um, so they're trying to contain it of course.
Speaker 1: 15:17 And, uh, the funding for this research, I mean, it's gonna cost a lot of money to, uh, to keep this program going.
Speaker 5: 15:23 Right? So government funding a lot of, uh, fundraising and donations. Um, and what I was going to say with the, the vaccines as well. Um, the World Health Organization mentioned yesterday, they're going to expand the vaccine campaigns. So they're not just going to do the context of the contacts, but now they're going to try to vaccinate entire communities. When there's a patient found in the community.
Speaker 1: 15:46 And again, the political rents, it makes it difficult. But I would imagine that the population is on the ground and the parents involved, they would want everybody to be
Speaker 5: 15:53 be vaccinated. There's just a lot of distrust. Um, and it's just hard. Just I think yesterday there were a group of burial workers who were attacked. They were health workers that were killed this week and last. Uh, so it's a very complicated situation.
Speaker 1: 16:09 Well, short time before we have to move on. But, uh, any idea on the timetable here, when might the researchers know if this particular vaccine works and, and about developing vaccines for the other strange.
Speaker 5: 16:20 And so the work is in progress and I know experts believe that it's going to be at least a year till they can knock this down. Meanwhile, there's preparedness, you know, happening here in the United States. I was talking to children's hospital officials this week. They continue to have monthly drills to practice in case an Ebola patient comes to the hospital. Um, they think that's unlikely, but it's potential. They were designated an Ebola treatment center during the last outbreak. So they continue the preparedness
Speaker 1: 16:48 and didn't it, did we not see a one or two isolated cases elsewhere in the country? I'm thinking Florida.
Speaker 5: 16:53 There were some other isolated cases, people who traveled. There was one man who traveled to Texas. I'm from Africa in 2014 to 2016 to healthcare workers who treated him also contracted it. That man died. The two health workers survived in all, there were 11 people last time who were brought to the United States. So hopefully that won't happen this time, but um, they're working hard to contain it and concerns are growing and we'll see, you know,
Speaker 1: 17:18 worked through that with you that the vaccine to have it for all extremes. Yeah. Yeah. All right, we're going to move on. Well, it's been a long time coming, but the watch word now at the San Diego County Board of supervisors is change. Times are changing with new faces on the five member board. Thanks to term limits. Change is also apparent in recent actions taken by the supervisors and more changes on the horizon. And let's start right there, Charles, with the, uh, political news regarding next year's election and the long grip of a Republican grip on that county board is in real jeopardy. Now.
Speaker 6: 17:54 It is, I mean, the faded of kind of the majority of the board is that stake. The next go around, we have three seats that are up for election. Um, one is almost assuredly going to flip to Democrats. Uh, the other leans Republican. And then the third is district three, which is coastal San Diego. And the big political news was that Kristin gas bar at the incumbent supervisor, um, finally announced that she's going to seek reelection. There's a lot of speculation that she may seek higher office, uh, in Congress. Again,
Speaker 1: 18:22 you explain a little bit background there. She had the, she had taken a crack at that.
Speaker 6: 18:25 She did. Yeah, she ran for, what was the seat held by former rep? Uh, Darrell Issa. Um, she didn't make it out of the primary in that race. She continued to serve for a term on supervisor. At that point she was only about a year into her term as supervisor, um, which caused a bit of a stir as well. Um, so I think there was a lot of questions about whether she would seek that seat again, given that she now has a full amount of time to mount a campaign. Also, demographically that region actually is probably a bit more favorable than her supervisor district. For someone who's running with an r next to their name.
Speaker 1: 19:01 No. Uh, with the course we're talking about a Christian, Christine gasper. Why did Democrats think they could overcome her and at status after all, she did beat a democrat. She did.
Speaker 6: 19:12 Um, but the Democrat she beat was as the scandal.
Speaker 1: 19:16 Yeah, we will revisit that. We talked about that on the show, but that was, that was a, yeah, there was a stain there and, and she was taken advantage of that.
Speaker 6: 19:23 Yeah. So there is that, I think the added element to it this time is when she ran, you know, several years ago the registration advantage for Democrats was only 2000. Now it's 17,000 when you add to it that her tenure on the board has seen her align pretty closely with Donald Trump who is wildly unpopular in the district. In fact, when he ran for president and he lost it to Hillary Clinton by 27 points. So those kinds of, where the writing on the wall that made them think they can really take a good shot at her. Any Democrats that are emerging so far, who might Joan, there are. So there are three thus far how Olga Diaz, who's the escalated or as an Escondido city council woman. Um, there's Terrell Lawson Riemer who is a former, uh, official with the Obama Administration Treasury Department and Jeff Griffith who's a firefighter and I'm a member of the Palomar Board of health.
Speaker 1: 20:14 Okay. All right. Now shift gears a little bit. Speaking of beating Republican's, Nathan Fletcher became ballooned Democrat on the board this time around by beating long time San Diego, Da, establishment Republican Bonnie demand this now he campaign on the need for change. What, what impact would you say Fletcher's head?
Speaker 6: 20:32 So I think immediately the big thing we've stands, there's certainly a lot more conversation going on. And obviously action wise you've seen the board do things that I think we're rather unimaginable even just a few years ago between, uh, you know, intervening on behalf of the asylum seekers, right. Uh, you know, community choice energy, which is something that Dianne Jacob or sell tried to push but couldn't even get a second on. Nathan Fletcher ended up being her backing for that. Uh, so you've seen a lot of different areas. He's also very involved with uh, environmental health and air quality control
Speaker 1: 21:02 and um, yeah, the asylum seekers is interesting because as you touched on earlier, Kristen gas bar had kind of been a snuggling up to Donald Trump because they were joining the suit do to kind of badge sanctuary cities.
Speaker 6: 21:15 Yeah. So I actually think that's one of those examples where I think most spectators, they kind of look it at as the big thing that kind of shows just how much and how dramatically the county has shifted. You know, a few years ago, they joined kind of after the fact, a lawsuit on behalf of the Trump administration against California this year. The board, you know, is suing Trump and his administration for ending the be so called safe release pro policy of connecting a asylum seekers to kind of their final destination. Right,
Speaker 1: 21:45 exactly. 80. Susan, I wanted to mention the story you had today about the county budget and they're beefing up funding for the mentally ill and wanted to get into that. Yeah,
Speaker 5: 21:54 yeah. The much of the six point $1 billion proposed budget will go toward mental health. Uh, there's a $50 million increase over last year, proposed for the behavioral health services and that money would go toward creating 177 more psychiatric beds, uh, a hundred and some more staff workers to work in the mental health, some of these psychiatric hospitals and facilities. And then it would also increase, you know, walking services, the psychiatric emergency department, um, response teams pert. So yeah, just trying to get a handle on our growing a number of people who are experiencing mental crises. Right.
Speaker 1: 22:38 Huge problem. And Charles A, is this a kind of move toward the progressive side of the political spectrum? Is this kind of just reflecting a change in the county and the city of San Diego, which as you say, Democrats, the registration numbers have gone up dramatically?
Speaker 6: 22:52 Well in recent years. I think it's a combination. I think one, obviously the departure to long time supervisors certainly changes the dynamic when you get fresh blood in there. I think also, you know, with two other supervisors who are about to be termed out, they have a lot of things they want to get done and I think that's made them far more aggressive in going after certain things. Um, at the end of the day though, the, you know, board does still have a conservative bent. I think that was on display just, you know, a week or two ago when we had the vote on whether, uh, the county would back the police use of force build an assembly member, Shirley Weber is pursuing, they elected to oppose it, which I think kind of shows as much as things are changing. It's not like a total, you know, they're, they're by no means fully for sure.
Speaker 1: 23:34 Let's not get carried away. Yeah. A, and w let's talk a little bit about Jim. Does when the other a new face, a Republican here, I'm a little more progressive action on his part than originally thought. Yes. So I think, you know,
Speaker 6: 23:45 one, he was one of the boards, uh, members who voted for suing the Trump administration, which I think is something that probably surprised a lot of people. Um, I, I think he certainly is fiscally conservative. He's very conscious of that. And he's also a big advocate for things like, ah, well opposing Sandag new proposal that would get some that promised road projects that would have a big impact in north and east county. Um, I don't think we can go some Rsa, he's overly progressive, but I think he certainly seems more flexible than his predecessor
Speaker 1: 24:16 in the gas bar herself. Do you think you should, might be a little mom or repositioning of her, of her, a approach with the election coming up?
Speaker 6: 24:25 So I think that's the thing we'll all be really watching closely. Uh, I'm not sure if there's really much wiggle room just given that she's visited the White House. She's been photographed with Trump on multiple occasions. It's really hard to backtrack on that. Um, especially because among the Republican base, backtracking on that, at least a certain portion of the Republican base that's going to be viewed unfavorably
Speaker 1: 24:47 now, if we were in in the next election cycle to see the majority shift to Democrats on this board, we could really see some dramatic
Speaker 6: 24:55 changes. Yeah. And I think that was kind of the long bet that people made a few years ago when you saw voters approved term limits, is that the kind of writing was on the wall that, oh, we can actually fully flipped this board. You know, Nathan Fletcher may very well just be the precursor to something much bigger. Right.
Speaker 1: 25:10 All right. Just about out of time, they've got some money to work with though the budget, it's budget time and they've had a lot of fun.
Speaker 6: 25:15 They do. So as I talked about a lot that they have $2 billion in reserves, most of that is not immediately accessible, are already allocated. Um, but there is still money that they're tapping into. They tapped into it to build a housing trusts.
Speaker 1: 25:28 All right. We'll see how they spend it and I'll watch your is going forward on that. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Charles Clark of the San Diego Union Tribune, Susan Murphy of Kpbs News and Tom Jones of NBC seven San Diego. And a reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website. KPBS dot o r. G I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week on the round table.
Speaker 2: 26:02 Yeah.