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New SANDAG Report Finds Drug Use at a 22-Year High Among Male Arrestees in 2021

July 21, 2022 - Meth and Marijuana are the Drugs of Choice for Both Men and Women Arrested in the San Diego Region

Drug use was at a 22-year high for adult males arrested and booked into local detention facilities in 2021, according to a new SANDAG report, CJ Bulletin: 2021 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.

The new report found that 83% of males and 60% of females surveyed tested positive for at least one illicit substance, a 22-year high for males, but the lowest rate for females since 2008. Although marijuana is legal, arrestees continue to obtain it illegally and two in three arrestees who tested positive for marijuana also tested positive for another drug.

Despite regional efforts to combat methamphetamine (meth) use, the report shows meth to be one of the most common drugs used by adult arrestees. Since 2020, the percent of arrestees who tested positive for meth increased to 58% for males and decreased to 44% for females. The female rate was the second consecutive decrease and represented the lowest positive test rate since 2011. When asked how easy it is to obtain the drug, 62% reported it was “very easy” to obtain in 2021, compared to 52% in 2017.

“It is important to note that COVID-19 played a significant role in data collection,” said SANDAG Senior Director of Data Science Dr. Cynthia Burke. “Booking policies were modified because of the pandemic, which impacted how people were booked and who was available to be interviewed. However, regardless the majority were positive for at least one substance, indicating the extent of need of the justice-involved population.”

Other notable report findings include:

• 78% reported having a previous arrest in the past, and the average age of first arrest was just under 22; the average number of previous arrests was 6
• Just over two in five (41%) of those arrested reported that they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder
• 65% reported ever being homeless and when asked their greatest need, the most common response was housing
• 41% have received drug treatment in the past
• 34% said they had committed a crime to support their drug use

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

With fewer individuals booked into jail during the pandemic, the sample decreased in size, from 487 in 2017 to 305 in 2021. For this analysis, interviews were conducted with adults booked at the Central jail and Las Colinas.

• View the complete CJ Bulletin: 2021 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region 
• View the SANDAG CJ Flash, a three-page summary of the CJ Bulletin highlighting interview findings
• 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