Take Action


Cheap, Pure Meth Makes a Comeback

UTsandiego.com, November 13, 2013

It’s been nearly 30 years since San Diego’s meth problem put us on the map.

“San Diego is to crystal meth what Bogota, Colombia, is to cocaine. The capital, the center,” declared local U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Ronald J. D’Ulisse in a 1985 San Diego Union article.

Today, the toxic home labs and biker drug wars that contributed to the unflattering label have, for the most part, been stamped out. You can’t buy cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine without showing your driver’s license. And haunting images of addicts from anti-meth campaigns left lasting impressions.

But the methamphetamine problem in San Diego County has never gone away, and it appears to be growing again.

The latest survey of people incarcerated in county jails suggests meth use is increasing to levels not seen since 2006.

Right now it’s cheap, pure and accessible, keeping longtime addicts hooked and enticing a younger crop of users.

Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in San Diego, said this uptick is being felt nationwide, but especially in places like San Diego and other cities along the Southwest border.

With laws in place that restrict the sale of pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient for home-cooked meth — the supply of methamphetamine has shifted to “superlabs” operated by drug cartels in Mexico.

“They have gotten it down to a science,” Hill said. “Superlabs are producing such high-quality and large-volume amounts, it is literally flooding the market. ... Prices have plummeted tremendously on methamphetamine.”

News headlines this year have reflected the drug’s destructive influence — and its pervasiveness — from the deadly shooting of a San Diego police officer to the drownings of two young children to the death of an infant left in a hot car.

The drug is a common footnote in cases involving car chases, homicides, robberies and officer-involved shootings.


In San Diego, one way researchers have tracked drug trends over the years is by taking the pulse of a specific community — arrestees. By looking at such a high-risk population, researchers can spot trends that might shift to the general population.

In 2012, the most recent data available, 47 percent of women and 31 percent of men jailed in the county tested positive for meth. That’s a little less than a peak in 2005, when 51 percent of women and 44 percent of men had the drug in their system.

As part of the study released recently by the San Diego Association of Governments, 253 adult arrestees who had used meth in the past 30 days were asked to complete a survey about their habit. The results help authorities shape anti-drug strategies to target specific areas or groups of people.

The latest survey found the typical meth user had been using the drug for 13 years and usually smokes the drug around three times a day, five days in a row.

The survey also found a high number of white female users who were unemployed, homeless for a time, and obtained their fix in North County.