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Reports reveal trends in drug abuse & gang involvement

Nearly two-thirds of women (62 percent) and more than half of men (59 percent) arrested and booked into jail for crimes in San Diego County in 2010 tested positive for illicit drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.  

Although meth use is down in the region from a high in 2005, the drug is still easily accessible. 

More than three-quarters of juveniles (76 percent) and more than half of adults (57 percent) booked into local jails in 2010 were or had been involved in a gang.

These are some of the findings from a trio of new reports released today by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division. The reports are based on data collected in 2010 as part of the SANDAG Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program. Under this program, people are randomly selected within 48 hours of their arrest and booking into jail for a confidential survey. They are asked questions about their drug use and other behaviors, such as involvement in gangs.

The three reports, which are available online at, are titled: “2010 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region,” “Methamphetamine Use by Adult and Juvenile Arrestees in 2010,” and “Gang Involvement Among San Diego County Arrestees in 2010.” These annual reports contain a wealth of statistics, including detailed information about why, when, and how offenders use drugs, as well as the quality and quantity of drugs available on the street. 

“Based on these reports, it’s clear that substance abuse and gangs remain major challenges in our region,” SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research Dr. Cynthia Burke said. “We are seeing gangs diversify into drug trafficking, human trafficking, pimping, and prostitution. Illegal use of prescription drugs is a growing concern, as well as the uptick in heroin use.”

Here are additional highlights from the reports: 

Marijuana remains the drug of choice among arrestees. Four in five arrestees (81 percent) who tested positive for multiple substances tested positive for marijuana.

Crack/cocaine use has shown the greatest decline over the past decade. Six percent of males and 11 percent of females arrested tested positive for the drug in 2010, compared to 15 percent of males and 26 percent of females in 2000. 

Two in five (40 percent) arrestees reported using prescription drugs illegally, with OxyContin topping the list of most recently used. 

While heroin use remains relatively low, its popularity has surged recently, with one in every five arrestees reporting they had tried it and one in every 10 testing positive for it in 2010, higher than any other time since 2000.

San Diego County has 170 different gangs consisting of about 7,700 members. A third of gang-involved arrestees admit to engaging in pimping or prostitution.

More than half (52 percent) of gang-affiliated arrestees reported having carried a gun and most (78 percent) reported it was easy to obtain. 

Meth use was down for adult female arrestees in 2010, compared to 2009 (38 percent to 33 percent), but up slightly for men (from 22 percent to 25 percent), as well as for juveniles (from 6 percent to 8 percent).

Project Manager(s)

Dr. Cynthia Burke, Director, Criminal Justice Research Division
Phone: (619) 699-1910, E-mail:

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