U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Otay Mesa cargo port of entry seized 286 pounds of methamphetamine and 26 pounds of fentanyl hidden in the sleeper cab of a tractor-trailer truck in July. Photo via CBP

The San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force released data Friday confirming a record number of San Diegans died from meth last year, breaking the previous high set in 2018.

According to strike force figures, the highly addictive drug was tied to the deaths of 546 people in San Diego County last year, 63 more than the previous record of 483 set in 2018.

“There’s no sugarcoating it: Meth is destroying lives and families at a record pace here in San Diego County,” said San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who in 1996, spearheaded the creation of the Methamphetamine Strike Force to combat meth problems in the region. “Local law enforcement and treatment services are on the frontlines battling this scourge, but clearly we need to do even more as a region.”

According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, the people most impacted by meth are 45 years of age and older, which represented 319 of the total meth-related deaths. The reason is that people in this age bracket tend to have had chronic cardiovascular disease, which itself could have resulted from longtime methamphetamine abuse.

The 2020 Meth Report Card released Friday by the Methamphetamine Strike Force also shows:

  • There were 13,020 emergency room visits due to methamphetamines in 2018 compared to 12,926 in 2017. Data from 2019 won’t be available until 2021.
  • A total of 6,591 people were admitted to county-funded treatment programs due to meth abuse last year versus. 6,906 in 2018.
  • 59% of adult arrestees tested positive for meth in 2019, compared to 57% the previous year.
  • 11% of juvenile arrestees tested positive for meth in 2019, compared to 10% in 2018.
  • And meth arrests for selling and possession increased to 11,313 in 2019 as opposed to 10,156 the year before.

According to the report, while San Diego County is not producing nearly as much methamphetamine as it did in the early 2000s and 1990s, cheap and potent batches of the drug are being smuggled across the border by Mexican cartels. Most of the methamphetamine in San Diego County is coming from Mexico.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine seizures at U.S.-Mexico ports of entry nearly doubled in 2019. More than 34,000 kilograms were seized in 2019 compared to more than 19,000 kilograms the year before.

With availability going up and prices coming down, meth is having more negative consequences in San Diego families and communities, strike force leaders said.

The county funds residential and outpatient treatment programs across the region to help people recover from substance use disorders. According to a county statement, participation in a recovery program also improves overall health.

People who want to anonymously report meth or drug activity are encouraged by county officials to call the Meth Hotline at 877-NO-2-METH or go to www.no2meth.org. Substance use treatment resources are available by calling the county’s access and crisis line at 888-724-7240 or 211.

— City News Service