More Potent Meth Killing More San Diegans

Video by Andy Tolley

A record number of San Diegans are dying because of meth, the San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force announced today.

According to the most recent statistics available, there were 311 meth-related deaths in 2015, the most recorded in a single year in the county. The figure also represents an 82 percent increase compared to 2011, when 171 meth deaths were reported.

“The numbers are heading in the wrong direction. More and more residents are dying from meth use and we must step up our fight against this killer,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “While the Meth Strike Force has made real progress in tackling the meth epidemic, the devastating drug continues to take a tragic toll on communities and families.”

San Diego County has had a long history with meth and the problems that come along with it. While the region is no longer considered the “Meth Capital of the World,” and little meth is produced locally, there is more meth available, it is more potent and cheaper than ever.

A consistent finding is that meth-related deaths are spread across the region, among men and women, among all ethnic groups and occupations.

Dr. Jonathan Lucas, Chief Deputy Medical Examiner

The highly addictive and deadly drug is being manufactured and smuggled across the border by Mexican drug cartels. Today, most of the methamphetamine in San Diego County is coming from Mexico.

More Middle-Aged and Older People Dying

The increased availability and potency have contributed to more meth-related deaths, more emergency room visits because of meth and more problems for individual users, their families and local communities.

Over the past six years, the Medical Examiner’s Office has noted a continued increase in the number of meth-related deaths, especially among middle-aged and older people.

Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas indicated this is the result of chronic meth users with poor health habits coming into contact with stronger, more pure meth.

“Some meth users have used the drug for years, but others tried it later in life and paid with their lives,” Lucas said. “Another consistent finding is that meth-related deaths are spread across the region, among men and women, among all ethnic groups and occupations.”

According to 2015 data, the majority of meth-related deaths (178 or 57 percent) were of people between the ages of 45 and 64.

Also, the number of emergency room discharges due to meth skyrocketed between 2011 and 2015, from 3,773 to 12,594, a whopping 234 percent increase. Furthermore, the percentage of adult arrestees who tested positive for meth jumped 19 percentage points during the same period, from 30 to 49 percent. And, arrests for sales and possession of meth jumped from 4,843 in 2011 to 6,849 in 2015.

Quitting Improves Heart Health

The good news is that if a person decides to stop using meth, the negative impacts to the cardiovascular system improve.

This is the conclusion of Dr. David Shaw, a cardiologist and director of medical education at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

Shaw analyzed his hospital’s data from 2009 to 2014, and found that the increase in meth-associated heart problems matched the Meth Strike Force’s upward trend in methamphetamine-related emergency department activity.

“I noticed that meth-associated heart failure rates seemed to be very high at Scripps Mercy. I was able to compare health among our heart patients with meth use histories and found a wonderful piece of news,” Shaw said. “If someone with a meth use history actually stops, their heart health improves. If they continued to use meth, their heart health deteriorated, often to death.”

Shaw’s research also shows that brain functioning improves and is restored after about two years of abstinence.

Treatment is Available and Recovery Is Possible

To help people kick their drug addiction, the County funds residential and outpatient treatment programs across the region.

Shari H. has been clean and sober for three years.
Shari H. has been clean and sober for three years.

Shari H. took advantage of one of those programs and was able to kick her multiple addictions.

“Recovery is possible. I have been clean and sober for three years, after 30 years of alcohol and drug use,” Shari said. “I am grateful for the strong recovery community here in San Diego. Living with an addiction and achieving lasting recovery requires loving support and access to tools to manage day-to-day living.”

The Methamphetamine Strike Force has redesigned its website and created a new Facebook page and YouTube channel to help the public understand that help is available.

“Preventing drug abuse and getting people into treatment is one of the goals of Live Well San Diego, the County’s ongoing initiative to improve the health of local residents,” said Nick Macchione, director of the County’s Health and Human Services Agency and a tri-chair of the Methamphetamine Strike Force. “We’ve created the new social media platforms with the hope they will help us fight meth addiction.”

People experiencing a drug addiction or who want to anonymously report meth or drug activity are encouraged to call the Meth Hotline at (877) NO-2-METH or visit Treatment is also available by calling the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 or by calling 2-1-1.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact