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New report: strong link between crime & substance abuse

October 12, 2017 - Seventy-five percent of male adult arrestees and 74 percent of female adult arrestees booked into jail in 2016 tested positive for an illicit substance – the second highest rate since 2000 for both groups, according to an annual substance abuse monitoring report released today by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.

Even when groups of arrestees were looked at by the type of crime alleged (i.e. violent, property, drug, other), at least two in every three adult arrestees were under the influence of one or more drugs when they were taken into custody.

The study outlined in the report also found that meth remains the drug of choice for those involved in the San Diego County justice system. In fact, 2016 had the highest percentage testing positive for the drug since 2000. Other notable meth-related findings included:

• 55 percent of males and 58 percent of females tested positive in 2016
• 79 percent of those who ever tried meth, also reported using it in the past year, demonstrating how highly addictive it can be
• Of those who tested positive for multiple drugs, 91 percent were under the influence of meth and something else 

“While our region has worked collaboratively for many years to reduce the demand for and supply of meth, the numbers we saw in this study are unfortunately consistent with other recent local statistics that show that the price of meth is down, the purity is up, and there are more meth-related deaths in the region than ever,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Dr. Cynthia Burke.

While opiate use is less prevalent in San Diego than in other parts of the country, another finding showed younger arrestees remain most likely to test positive for opiates. In past years, opiates such as heroin were more often found in arrestees 40 years of age and older. Around one in three heroin users in the study said they abused prescription drugs first and then switched to heroin, most often because it was cheaper and easier to obtain. Adult females were more likely to test positive for opiates (15%) in 2016, compared to males (9%)

A two-page summary of project findings is available in the most recent CJ Flash and a summary of all data for the past 5 years (2012-2016) is available in aggregate.

Project Manager(s)

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