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Case study: One meth user's story

“Michael” was a meth user whose continued criminal activity cost San Diego county taxpayers an estimated $201,877 over a span of three decades.

However, thanks to an innovative law enforcement and drug treatment outreach effort known as Operation Tip the Scale, Michael* has been able to get treatment for his drug addiction and get clear of the criminal justice system, according to the study.

His case is featured in a Criminal Justice Flash report produced by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.

The study released illustrates both the impact of meth-related crime, as well as the results of follow-up efforts intended to steer offenders out of the criminal justice system, according to Division Director Cindy Burke.  

“This is the third meth-related case study we’ve done since 2006,” said Burke. “These studies demonstrate one of the key impacts of meth addiction: the cost of drug-related recidivism.”

“This particular study is a bit different because we were also able to highlight an innovative response to this problem, which has evolved in recent years,” she said.

It’s important to note that “Michael” is not a randomly selected user. The description provided here is not intended to suggest he is reflective of a typical meth user or that he represents an average.

While Michael’s name has been changed to protect his identity, the description of his experiences reflects data documentation from San Diego County and his freely-shared experiences.

For this study, researchers from SANDAG worked with the San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force and its partner agencies – including the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Probation Department, and Health and Human Services – to document Michael’s criminal background and history of drug use. They took that one step further and also followed Michael’s case after he was arrested and offered drug treatment through Operation Tip the Scale.

The first Operation Tip the Scale was conducted in spring 2009. To date more than 16 operations have been run in every sub-region throughout the county.

The operation is considered unique because it pairs law enforcement officers with drug treatment counselors. Working together they can offer eligible, non-violent offenders the option of heading straight into a drug treatment program in lieu of jail.

View the study’s findings to find more information on Michael’s case, data on the impacts of meth-use in San Diego County, and more information about Operation Tip the Scale.

*Note: Michael’s name  has been changed to protect his privacy.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or