Though the use of methamphetamine continues to pose a major problem in San Diego, county health officials and leaders say the city is no longer considered the “meth capital” of the United States, according to the latest statistics.
“San Diego County may no longer be the meth capital, but meth continues to take its deadly toll. The statistics are very disturbing,” County of San Diego Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacobs said Tuesday during a press conference outlining meth use in the region.
According to Jacobs, as well as officials from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), there were 217 meth-related deaths in San Diego in 2012 – up from 140 in 2008. That marks a 55 percent increase in local meth-related deaths.
Jacobs said the 2012 figure is the second highest since the county’s Methamphetamine Strike Force – a group composed of approximately 70 local, state and federal organizations and agencies – first began tracking these types of incidents in the mid-90s.
Still, today’s so-called “Meth Report Card” is better than it was in 1996, when the County Board of Supervisors created the Meth Strike Force to curb the large presence of meth labs operating out of the county.
“San Diego County had the dubious distinction of being the meth capital [of the U.S.] and it was East County that was the hot spot,” Jacobs recalled. “We have to continue to be vigilant.”
Joining Jacobs at Tuesday’s press conference were HHSA director Nick Macchione, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis, San Diego County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas and Eric Davis, a recovery counselor and former meth user.
The group talked about indicators of the meth problem in San Diego, including unintentional deaths, emergency room visits, treatment admissions, arrests for possession and sales of meth and adult and juvenile arrestees testing positive for meth.
While the county has implemented several programs to curb meth use, the drug remains prevalent in San Diego.
DA Dumanis said law enforcement continues to fight the battle against meth on a daily basis.
“Law enforcement’s commitment to the fight against meth continues,” said Dumanis. “We will arrest and prosecute meth users and dealers. Meth is a bad drug. It does bad things to your mind – it makes you violent. We see it often in officer-involved shooting cases because [the suspect] acts in a paranoid or bizarre way.”
Dumanis said 36 percent of adult arrestees in 2012 tested positive for meth, compared to 24 percent in 2008.
“What this tells us, is that meth continues to be the drug of choice for adults in San Diego, especially for people who are on probation,” Dumanis added.
On a positive note, the DA said the number of juvenile arrestees who tested positive for meth dropped to 4 percent in 2012, down from 10 percent in 2008.
“Young people are not turning to meth at the same level as adults,” she added.
While the number of meth labs in the county has drastically dropped over the past decade, Jacobs said meth manufacturers are still finding new ways to make and distribute the drug.
This includes smuggling liquid meth across the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as using a potentially explosive meth manufacturing method called “shake ‘n bake,” in which chemicals are mixed together in a 2-liter soda bottle.
Jacobs urged anyone who suspects drug activity in their community or anyone suffering from a meth addiction to call the Meth Hotline for help at (877) 662-6384.
“Make no mistake, meth means death,” said Jacobs. “This isn’t like something in a TV show like ‘Breaking Bad.’ Meth breaks lives.”
Health officials said the meth use numbers for 2013 have not yet been released, but should be made public within the next few months. Already, the HHSA confirms about 230 meth-related deaths in the county for 2013, which comes out to about a 10 percent increase from the 2012 figure.