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SANDAG Report Finds Strong Link Between Meth Use and Mental Illness

Meth Use is at a 19-year-high in the San Diego Region

November 15, 2019-- Adult arrestees who reported ever trying meth were significantly more likely to have received a mental health diagnosis, according to a new report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.

Findings revealed that 36% of adult arrestees who reported having tried meth also had suicidal thoughts, compared with 20% who had never tried meth.

The new SANDAG report, Methamphetamine Use and Mental Health Issues Among the Arrestee Population, found that nearly equal percentages of arrestees reported receiving a mental health diagnoses first or trying meth first – one did not precede the other in a predictable way.

The study also found significant differences between arrestees who reported ever trying meth and having a mental health diagnosis or staying overnight in a mental health facility.

Findings include:

•     Three-quarters (75%) of this group tested positive for meth at the time of their current arrest, compared with 42% of all arrestees

•     Females represented a greater proportion of this group (42%) than they did of the other arrestee group (32%)

•     This group was more likely to be homeless at the time of their arrest (58% versus 29% of other arrestees) and to report ever being homeless (86% versus 55%) 

•     This group was more likely to have prior arrests (92% versus 72%) and prior prison sentences (34% versus 24%).

•     While arrestees were equally likely to report having children, individuals in this group were less likely to report living with children (14% versus 27%)

“We conducted a deeper dive on our data because we know from national surveys that substance use is more common among individuals with a mental health issue than those without one,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research and Program Management Director Dr. Cynthia Burke. “As our community struggles to address the needs of individuals with these types of dual diagnosis issues, many of whom are also homeless, it is important that we work collaboratively to get people the help they need but may be unable to get for themselves due to their substance use or mental health issues.”

This report is one in a series that highlights findings from data collected as part of the San Diego County Substance Abuse Monitoring program. Since 2004, when federal funding for the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program was suspended, San Diego has been the only county to continue this project uninterrupted. With funding from the SANDAG Criminal Justice Clearinghouse, these data have been reported annually to provide useful information to policy makers, as well as law enforcement, prevention, and treatment professionals regarding drug use trends and involvement in other risky or illegal behavior over time.

Read the two-page summary, SANDAG CJ Flash: Methamphetamine Use and Mental Health Issues Among the Arrestee Population.

Project Manager(s)

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