Statement: “We’re seeing more and more teenagers using OxyContin and dying from OxyContin,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said at a public safety panel June 22.

Determination: False

Analysis: We’ve pledged to hold ourselves accountable through this blog just as we hold public officials accountable. And, like public officials, we sometimes make mistakes. In June, we first evaluated the above statement and called it true. Upon further review of case data from the county medical examiner, we’ve decided to call the statement — and our previous rating — false.

Our previous Fact Check relied on an analysis of case data for people ages 16 to 25, which obviously includes more than just teenagers. Using that incorrect age group led us to an incorrect conclusion. We apologize for this careless error.

So let’s set the record straight:

In an effort to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse, county officials have consistently highlighted teen abuse of the drug OxyContin, one brand name for the powerful opiate oxycodone. It’s prescribed to relieve pain, abused for a long-lasting high.

Drug abuse counselors and law enforcement authorities have provided some anecdotal evidence of rising OxyContin abuse among San Diego County teens. Counselors have testified to having more teen patients and law enforcement authorities say it’s the pill of choice in schools.

Other toxicologists and drug abusers have argued that nothing has changed in recent years. OxyContin abuse has always been rampant, but now county authorities are finally paying attention to it, they say.

The North County Times also recently published a story finding that local officials are overstating the OxyContin problem.

Since there’s no clear data on the first half of Dumanis’ statement, we’ve decided to focus on the second, more measurable assertion. Are more teenagers dying from OxyContin? Well, no.

No teenager’s death since 2007 has been related to oxycodone, according to case data from the county medical examiner. In 2007, the medical examiner determined that two 19-year-olds died by overdosing on oxycodone and several other prescription drugs.

The two deaths in 2007 did represent an increase from the previous three years, when the medical examiner found no oxycodone-related deaths among teens, but no deaths since 2007 would equally represent a declining trend.

Although the first portion of Dumanis’ statement is less certain, we’ve decided to call the statement false because there’s no statistical evidence to support the second, more grave assertion.

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

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

— KEEGAN KYLE

Summer Polacek

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

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