Image: falseStatement: OxyContin, the powerful prescription pain killer, is the “leading cause of drug-related deaths in San Diego County,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said at a public safety panel June 22.

Determination: False

Analysis: In fact, several drugs contribute to the deaths of more people each year than OxyContin, the most common brand name associated with the opiate oxycodone.

In the previous five years, oxycodone has ranked below methamphetamine, morphine and heroin, and ranked near other prescription medication like Valium, according to a recent analysis of case data by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office. The analysis examined the county’s accidental deaths, such as non-suicidal drug overdose. Alcohol was always the county’s top killer.

Oxycodone has contributed to a greater number of deaths in recent years — more than double the number of cases from five years ago — but it continues to rank below other substances. For comparison, alcohol contributed to accidental deaths in 197 cases last year, more than four times the number with oxycodone.

Here are the top drug killers ranked by the number of cases last year: ethanol (alcohol), 197; methamphetamine, 88; morphine, 83; heroin, 73; diazepam, 47; hyrocodone, 43; oxycodone, 42; methadone, 41.

Last fall, county and federal law enforcement officials announced forming an OxyContin Task Force, highlighting the abuse of OxyContin above other prescription drugs. On Wednesday, authorities said they’ve changed the name to the Prescription Drug Task Force to represent its broader focus.

We’ve called Dumanis’ statement false because it incorrectly described how OxyContin compares to other drugs in the county’s landscape of drug-related deaths.

In a phone interview, district attorney spokesman Paul Levikow acknowledged the error, saying it was an honest mistake from communications staff, who provided Dumanis incorrect information.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Valium as pain medication. It’s mainly prescribed to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures. We regret the error.


Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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