Law enforcement have been working for years on teenage prescription drug abuse with the idea that it was a gateway to the abuse of other drugs like alcohol, marijuana and heroin.

I’ve followed prescription drug abuse in other cities, and found that it is often more of a suburban problem. And I wanted to know if San Diego fit that trend. So I obtained a database kept by the San Diego County Medical Examiner that lists every death since January 1, 2007, that involved an intoxicant, which includes alcohol, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, or prescription substances like oxycodone and diazepam.

In my analysis, I separated out deaths in which the medical examiner determined that prescription drugs contributed to the cause of death, whether it was accidental, suicidal or homicidal. I compared residents of the county’s 18 incorporated cities and used population data to improve the statistical comparison.

El Cajon, Lemon Grove and La Mesa have had the highest rates of death related to the use of prescription drugs since January 2007. For every 10,000 residents, they had 6.5, 5.5 and 4 deaths respectively. The county average for the county’s incorporated cities was 2.4 deaths per 10,000 residents. San Diego and other coastal cities had average or lower rates compared with the rest of the county.

It’s unclear to me whether those eastern communities have more prescription drug problems, or just larger drug problems in general. The three communities also had the most per capita deaths related to alcohol and hard drugs.

I’m researching prescription drug issues because it’s one of those crimes where accurate data can be tricky to collect. Most cases of abuse don’t end up in the morgue because many of the serious users are saved from overdose in the emergency room. The public doesn’t usually hear about those cases.

Please send me an e-mail if you or anyone you know can shed light on this issue in San Diego County. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

— KEEGAN KYLE

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