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New SANDAG Report Finds Drug Use at a 21-Year High Among Male Adult Arrestees in 2020

August 19, 2021 -- Meth Remains Drug of Choice for Both Men and Women Arrested in the San Diego Region

Drug use was at a 21-year high for adult males arrested and booked into local detention facilities in 2020, according to a new SANDAG report, 2020 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.

The new SANDAG report found 82% of males surveyed tested positive for at least one illicit substance, a 3% increase from 2019. Drug use among adult females surveyed significantly decreased from the 82% in 2019 to 67% in 2020. This represents the lowest positive rate for adult females since 2015.

“It is important to note the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on data collection for this report,” said SANDAG Director of Research and Program Management Dr. Cynthia Burke. “The large decrease in drug use among adult females could reflect modified booking policies as a result of the pandemic, which impacted who was available to be interviewed for this project. However, even with these changes, the majority of adults who are booked are drug-involved, and this is true regardless of why they are booked, highlighting the ongoing need to address substance use and addiction as both a public safety and health issue.”

Meth continues to be the drug of choice for those booked into local detention facilities in 2020. Of those surveyed, 57% of males tested positive for meth, a 2% increase from 2019 and a new 21-year high; 53% of females tested positive for meth. More than four in five (84%) said that meth was “easy to obtain.”

Other notable report findings include:

• Two in every five arrestees (40%) reported that they had previously received drug treatment

• Most surveyed (88%) reported previous arrests in the past

• 37% have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder

• 70% reported ever being homeless

• 19% have ever overdosed and 45% of these individuals had been administered naloxone to rapidly reverse opioid overdose

• 27% thought they had used a drug that contained fentanyl even though they had not purchased it

Since 2000, SANDAG, through its Substance Abuse Monitoring program, has conducted interviews in local detention facilities. The program helps identify drug use trends among adult and juvenile offender populations in order to develop prevention strategies for the San Diego region.

• View the complete CJ Bulletin: 2020 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.

• View the SANDAG CJ Flash, a two-page summary of the CJ Bulletin highlighting interview findings.

• View the SANDAG CJ Flash, highlighting statistics of local drug use and overdoses in the San Diego Region.

• See supplemental data regarding the drug of choice for San Diego County arrestees.

Project Manager(s)

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