Methamphetamine Deaths Surpass Record Set in 2019: County Meth Report Card

In 2019, 546 deaths were recorded while a total of 722 San Diegans died with meth in their system in 2020.

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Time on our hands and the availability of illicit drugs proved a deadly combination nationwide throughout the pandemic.

The CDC says overdose deaths are accelerating since the advent of COVID-19. On Tuesday, San Diego County's Meth Strike Force & Prescription Drug Task force released a report card with some devastating results.

Last August U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had its largest methamphetamine drug seizure along the southwest border to date. Officers at the Otay Mesa Commercial Facility say they discovered 2.8 tons of methamphetamine and fentanyl powder hidden in a shipping container.

Border patrol agents seized fentanyl powder and meth estimated to be worth more than $12.9 million

"Just imagine how many lives were destroyed just from a shipment that size," San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

The DA, one of the three chairs on the Meth Strike Force, announced some startling statistics Tuesday concerning drug use and deaths from overdose this year.

In 2016 there were 377 deaths from methamphetamine in San Diego County. In 2020, just four years later, 722 deaths were reported -- an increase of nearly 192%.

"Now, in our daily reports the descriptions of the circumstances of the people that die are so common that we can almost guess the autopsy findings and toxicology reports before we do the autopsies," San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Steven Campman said.

The Strike Force report card indicates three-quarters of those deaths were accidental.

It also shows crime and meth are highly interlinked -- 56% of all people arrested for violent crimes have meth in their system.

Thirty-one percent of those in substance abuse treatment within the county's specialty care system report meth is their primary drug of choice, according to the report.

The District Attorney says many local meth production operations have been shut down, but border seizures involving meth are up 23% over the previous year.

"We need to remember though, behind each number are multiple lives, individuals, families, friends and real people," San Diego County Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. Luke Bergmann said.

Stephan acknowledges the dangers of fentanyl but concludes the number one killer and driver of violent crimes remains meth.

The task force reported prescription drug abuse was down this year and credits, awareness, treatment and prevention for that.  

Looking Back at NBC 7's Coverage - Breaking San Diego: A Meth Crisis

Back in 2019, NBC 7 Investigates looked, in-depth, at the meth crisis in San Diego with a series of reports called “Breaking San Diego.”

Our reporting showed that drug enforcement agents referred to the region as “ground zero” in the nation’s fight against meth abuse and that the use of the drug had long been an issue in San Diego County. Read about that here.

Watch our “Breaking San Diego” coverage below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4

Bryan Lagassa with Boardwalk Recovery Center talks with NBC 7 Investigates reporter Rory Devine
The resurgence of meth into the region has led drug enforcement agents to refer to San Diego County as “ground zero” for the nation’s meth problem. NBC 7 Investigates Mari Payton explains San Diego's meth crisis.
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