SAN DIEGO COUNTY – According to a report released last week by the San Diego County Medical Examiner (ME), suicides and prescription drug overdoses continue for the third year to be the leading causes of death in cases investigated by the agency. It also showed that homicide numbers declined for the first time in two years.
The ME’s 2013 Annual Report was a compilation of data based on nearly 10,000 deaths in the county that were reported to the office last year. This represents half of the approximately 20,000 deaths that occur yearly in the county. The report focuses on the 2,974 deaths in which they took jurisdiction, a number that includes all of the non-natural deaths in the county as well as certain natural deaths.
“One of the main reasons our office compiles this report is to help identify patterns and trends for various deaths, many of which are preventable,” said Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas. “This data is useful to identify issues that may need additional resources. The data may also show whether prevention education efforts are working to address previously identified problems.”
The office performed autopsies on 1,955 of the cases, and 1,019 cases were given external examinations. The ME’s office only investigates about five percent of natural deaths in the county. This subset of natural deaths tends to be younger individuals and more sudden and unexpected than most of the natural deaths in the county.
Based on the report, in San Diego County:
• 45 percent or 1,327 deaths were accidental
• 36 percent or 1,068 were natural deaths
• 15 percent or 441 were suicides;
• 3.3 percent or 88 were homicides
• 1.3 percent or 40 cases, the manner of death could not be determined.
Other findings in the 2013 cases include: Prescription drug deaths fell slightly in number from last year, but levels remain near the peak of a 14-year period. Prescription drug deaths also remain the most common cause of accidental deaths.
Methamphetamine was the leading drug in accidental overdose deaths, and set a record with 190 deaths for 2013.
Alcohol was the next drug leading to 127 accidental deaths.
Heroin deaths also continue to increase, and with 89 deaths had the third most accidental deaths. Most of the accidental heroin overdose deaths were among people in their 20s.
The number of suicides at 441 deaths was the highest on record.
Homicides continue to remain at low levels compared to recent decades. In 2013, 88 homicides were reported; 122 were reported in 2012; and 93 were reported in 2011. In 2013, 39 deaths were due to firearms; 22 deaths were due to cutting or stabbing; and 15 deaths were by blunt force. Ten officer-involved shootings are noted in a small subset for 2013.
In 2013, 247 people died in motor vehicle-related collisions, down from 270 fatalities in 2012. These fatalities also include passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Alcohol remains a major factor in motor vehicle-related deaths.
The leading cause of natural deaths in the Medical Examiner cases remains cardiovascular disease. Obesity continues to be a major risk factor in natural deaths.
The ME’s office noted that many of the deaths could have been prevented and urge people to seek out help in a crisis. Mental health and substance abuse counseling is available to anyone who is struggling or worried about a friend or loved one at the County’s Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.
Suicide prevention and awareness information is also available at up2sd.org. Referrals for services can be obtained by calling 2-1-1 as well.