Meth Remains Drug of Choice in San Diego County SANDAG Report

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While much of country is experiencing an opiate crisis, methamphetamine (meth) is still the drug of choice in San Diego County for adults in the justice system, according to a report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division this week.

The new SANDAG report, CJ Bulletin: 2017 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region is one in a series of reports highlighting findings from data collected as part of the San Diego County Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program.

This report follows the CJ Bulletin: 2017 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region released by SANDAG last month, which found that marijuana was the first substance ever tried among the more than half of the juveniles surveyed, before alcohol and tobacco, in 2017.

The SANDAG Adult Arrestee report found that drug use is at an 18-year high for males, representing almost four in five arrestees who were interviewed.

  • 79% of adult male arrestees tested positive for at least one illicit drug, which includes marijuana, meth, cocaine, opiates, and PCP. This is the highest percentage recorded since 2000 and has increased 4% from the previous year (2016).
  • 73% of adult female arrestees tested positive for an illicit drug. This was the fourth highest recording since SANDAG began surveying this demographic.

Both juvenile and adult arrestees who participate in the Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program and report meth use in the past 30 days are asked to answer additional meth-related questions. Data is collected from this portion of the survey is used in the SANDAG CJ In Brief: 2017 Methamphetamine Use by San Diego County Arrestees. This report, which was also released this week, is the third in the series of CJ Bulletins, In Briefs, and Flashes for this program.

The study found that increases in drug use among adults were driven by meth use. In 2017, 55% of adult males and 58% of adult females tested positive for meth.

Other meth related findings include:

  • 38% of males and 30% of females tested positive for multiple drugs – nine in ten of these individuals were positive for meth and something else.
  • 81% of adults who tried meth for the first time used it in the last year and of those who used it in the past month, the average number of days used was almost 18 days.
  • More than half of adult users surveyed (52%) said it was “very easy” to obtain
  • 98% of arrestees surveyed obtained meth in San Diego County
  • 47% meth users said the price was lower and 46% it was more available in 2017, compared to 37% and 35% respectively, five years ago.
  • The average adult meth user, who has been using for at least 14 years, admitted to using 3 times a day and 7 days in a row in the past month.
  • While most users typically smoke the drug, around one in three, 35% said that they had also injected it at least once.
  • 62% surveyed who were employed and/or a student, admitted to going to work and/or school under the influence in the past year.

“While the San Diego region has been fortunate in that we have not been devastated by the opiate crisis to the same degree as other jurisdictions, the bad news is that despite our coordinated efforts, meth use locally is higher than it has ever been,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Dr. Cynthia Burke. “Meth today is cheaper, more potent, and readily available than ever. It is important that our communities continue to keep this drug issue at the forefront and that prevention, treatment, and suppression efforts are a priority across the county.”

The Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program focuses on individuals who are arrested and booked into local detention facilities. Subjects are interviewed within 48 hours of their arrest and asked in an anonymous and confidential interview about their substance use history and other risky behaviors. Interviews with adult and juvenile arrestees regarding drug use and other risky behavior have been conducted by SANDAG since 1987.

SANDAG aggregate data for reports mentioned are also available: