S.D. Ranks Highest in New Inmates With Drugs in Their System


Men and women booked into San Diego jails tested positive for multiple drugs more often than in any other city surveyed, a recent National Institute of Justice study showed.

The presence of two or more drugs was detected in the urine of 48% of the males and 54% of the females booked into San Diego jails during a three-month period, the study showed. Ranking second were Washington's new inmates, with 36% of the men and 46% of the women testing positive for two or more drugs, the survey stated.

"I think it has to do with the availability of drugs," said Susan Pennell, director of the criminal research unit of the San Diego Assn. of Governments. "We've got amphetamines here, we've got cocaine here. It's all very easy to get. In other areas, it may not be as available."

Of the 161 men who agreed to be tested between January and March, 1989, about 85% tested positive for at least one drug. Drugs were found in the urine of 83% of the 104 women tested over a similar period. Almost all of the inmates agreed to be tested when asked.

Cocaine and amphetamines were the drugs of choice among San Diego's new female inmate population, while cocaine and marijuana were the men's first choices. But consistent with previous studies, both men and women booked into San Diego's jails had amphetamines in their urine far more frequently than inmates in any other city surveyed. Thirty-five percent of San Diego's male arrestees and 45% of its female arrestees tested positive for amphetamines.

Almost half of the men and 75% of the women also admitted to injecting amphetamines at some time, the study showed.

Researchers and drug enforcement officials attribute the high incidence of amphetamine use among San Diego's new inmate population to the region's proximity to rural areas, where drug labs are easily hidden, and to speed manufacturers who have created a market for the drug. (As a result of recent crackdowns on illegal drug labs in San Diego, many manufacturers are believed to have moved to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.)

"Why do you get a hula hoop fad in New England and not in Texas?" asked Eric Wish, an adviser with the National Institute of Justice's drug use forecasting program. "Because someone there pushed it."

Although women make up only about 15% of San Diego's new arrestees, their drug use is particularly troubling to county drug prevention officials.

"Drug use among female offenders is as serious, and in some cases more serious, than male offenders," Pennell said. "By nature of their proportion in the system, they sometimes get forgotten. But women drug abusers have a significant impact on other groups--like babies."

Barbara Morton, assistant director of drug abuse services for the San Diego County Department of Health Services, said there has been a focus on treatment programs for women, particularly pregnant women. But, she added, the need for drug treatment for both sexes far outpaces the number of available beds. Last year, no more than 140 county-funded beds were available, she said.

The high percentage of both men and women testing positive for amphetamines "really points up the need for more treatment programs," Morton said. "These are people who are voluntarily being tested. It shows not only are there lots of people out there using drugs, but that a lot of them are reaching out for help."

The quarterly urine tests, funded by the National Institute of Justice through the San Diego Assn. of Governments, are voluntary and have no effect on a newly booked inmate's judicial proceedings. The program, which tests urine samples for 10 drugs and has been used to collect data since 1987, costs about $50,000 a year to administer in San Diego.

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