2022 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region


Criminal Justice Research & Clearinghouse  /  Substance Abuse Monitoring  /  2022 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region


Three in four arrestees in the San Diego region tested positive for at least one substance

In 2022, 77% of adult males and 75% of adult females tested positive for at least one substance (i.e., marijuana, cocaine/crack, methamphetamine, PCP, or opiates).

Methamphetamine and marijuana were most common to have been used recently

Of arrestees who reported trying methamphetamine, about seven in ten (72%) reported use in the last 12 months and reported an average of 19.9 days of use in the past 30 days. Similar patterns were seen in marijuana users, with 70% using it in the last 12 months with a reported average of 15.5 days of use in the past 30 days.

Fentanyl’s availability is steadily increasing in the San Diego region

Almost one in four (23%) interviewed arrestees reported ever intentionally and illegally (i.e., not prescribed) using fentanyl, and of those, 62% reported using it at least once in the 30 days prior to the interview. Additionally, 35% of arrestees reported they believed a drug they had used contained fentanyl, even though they were not told it did, because of their reaction to the substance.

Two-thirds of arrestees struggle with housing stability

Just under two-thirds of arrestees (65%) reported ever being homeless, with a majority (72%) saying they first became homeless in San Diego County. In a new question added in 2022, almost one-third (31%) with a prior booking reported spending the first night after their most recent release in the streets.

Mental health and substance abuse remain co-occurring issues in the arrestee population

Two in five (40%) of interviewed arrestees self-reported a mental health diagnosis or psychiatric disorder. One-third (33%) of those with a diagnosis reported ever staying overnight for treatment, of which 45% reported being intoxicated or under the influence at the time of admission. These statistics emphasize the importance of addressing co-occurring issues.


This CJ Bulletin, 2022 Adult Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region, is one publication in a series that highlights findings from data collected as part of the San Diego County Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program.
Since 2004, when federal funding for the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program was suspended, San Diego has been the only site to continue this project uninterrupted. With funding from the SANDAG Criminal Justice Clearinghouse, these data have been reported on an annual basis, providing useful information to policy makers, law enforcement, prevention, and treatment professionals regarding drug use trends and involvement in other risky or illegal behavior over time. In 2022, this data collection effort was generously supported by the San Diego-Imperial High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA); Health and Human Services Agency, Behavioral Health Services; the District Attorney’s Office; and the Public Safety Group. Their support, as well as the cooperation of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, is gratefully acknowledged.
As part of this project, arrestees are approached (using a random sampling method) within 48 hours of their booking into jail. If the arrestee is available and willing to participate in a confidential interview, they are asked a series of questions related to their drug use history and provide a urine sample for drug testing. In 2022, 208 male arrestees were interviewed at the Vista and Central Jails and 97 female arrestees at Las Colinas. Of these 305 arrestees, 300 (98%) completed the interview and provided a valid urine sample for analysis.

How has testing positive for any drug[1] changed over time for male and female arrestee?

In 2022, 77% of male arrestees and 75% of female arrestees tested positive for an illicit drug, which includes marijuana,[2] methamphetamine (meth), cocaine, opiates, and PCP. The 2022 male positive rate is a drop from the 22-year high (83% in 2021), beginning the first decreasing trend since 2018. The 2022 female positive rate of 75% is a sharp increase from last year, when it was the second lowest since 2008 (when it was 58%). While the rates of males and females testing positive for any drug show a noticeable inverse relationship, both rates are returning to normalcy following the influxes that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Note: Males (n=204-761) Females (n=80-345). Prior to 2013 and since 2015, percent positive was based on marijuana, meth, cocaine, opiates, and PCP. In 2013 and 2014, the PCP test was replaced with a test for alcohol.

How many arrestees are polydrug[3] users?

Around 1 in 3 arrestees (32% of males and 33% of females) tested positive for multiple drugs in 2022. Of those positive for multiple drugs, 74% tested positive for two, 22% for three, and 4% for four drugs. Of those who tested positive for multiple substances, 97% were positive for meth, 95% marijuana, 21% opiates, 11% cocaine/crack, and 6% PCP.
Note: Males (n=204) Females (n=96).

How does testing positive vary by the arrestee’s highest booking charge?

As seen below, regardless of offense type over seven in ten (70%) arrested individuals tested positive for any drug in 2022 and over one-fourth (25%) tested positive for multiple. While any differences were not significant and due to chance, it is notable that individuals with a violent offense as their highest charge were least likely to test positive for any and multiple drugs.
Note: Violent (n=125) Property (n=64) Drug (n=54) Other (n=57).

How have positive test rates by drug type changed over time?

The percent of male arrestees positive for marijuana decreased to 53% in 2022, from 60% in 2021. Contrary to previous years, females’ positive rate was not much lower rate than males, as the percent of female arrestees positive for marijuana represented a new 23-year high at 52%. While there were no significant differences in the percent positive for marijuana by gender, there were significant differences by age with arrestees under 25 more likely to test positive (77%) than arrestees between 25 and 39 (52%), and 40 and older (46%). There were also significant differences by race/ethnicity, with 62% of Black/African American individuals testing positive, compared to 58% of Hispanic/Latino(a) individuals and 44% of White individuals.
Notes: Males (n=204-761) Females (n=80-345).
For meth, the percent of males that tested positive in 2022 decreased for the first time since 2014, to 52%. In comparison, the female rate of 55% represented a sharp increase compared to the 2021 rate of 44%. Similar to marijuana, meth use varied significantly by an arrestee’s age. The trend in meth use by age was opposite of the trend seen in marijuana use as older arrestees (65% of those of those 40 and older and 49% of those between 25 and 39) were more likely to test positive for meth than those under the age of 25 (37%). Meth use did not vary significantly by an individual’s race/ethnicity.
Notes: Males (n=204-761) Females (n=80-345).
The percent of arrestees positive for cocaine in 2022 decreased for males (from 7% to 4%) but increased slightly for females (3% to 4%). There were no significant differences in recent cocaine use by an individual’s gender, age, or ethnicity/race.
Notes: Males (n=204-761) Females (n=80-345).
For opiates[4], the percent of males who tested positive slightly increased to 8% in 2022 (from 7% in 2021), but greatly decreased for females (to 4%, from 9% in 2021). While there were no significant differences in the percent positive for opiates by gender or age, there were significant differences by ethnicity/race in 2022, with Hispanic/Latino(a) arrestees having a higher positive rate (12%) than White (4%) and Black/African American (0%) arrestees.
Notes: Males (n=204-761) Females (n=80-345).
In addition, 2% of adult males and females tested positive for PCP in 2022 (not shown).

How do characteristics of drug use vary by drug type?

Marijuana was the drug most commonly tried by arrestees (89%) and was also the substance most frequently tried first (68%). Marijuana was also tried at the earliest age (15.5) approximately four years earlier than any other drug. Those who used it in the past 30 days used it an average of 15.5 days. Males were significantly more likely than females to report using marijuana in the past 12 months (73% versus 62%) (not shown).
Meth was tried by almost two-thirds (62%) of arrestees and it was used more often than any other drug in the last 30 days and 12 months (average of 19.9 days out of the past 30 days and 72% in the past 12 months).
Cocaine was tried by over half (55%) of arrestees and at the second youngest average age (19.2), following marijuana. Recent cocaine use was less than any of the other substances, with around one in four (24%) reporting they had used it in the past 12 months, and the average use in the past 30 days being 4.8 days. Males reported more frequent cocaine use in the past 30 days than females (5.3 versus 2.3) (not shown).
Heroin was tried by 32% of arrestees, half (50%) of whom had used it in the past 12 months. Heroin had the oldest average age of first use at 23.2. Of those who reported using heroin in the past 30 days, it was used an average of 14.5 days.
Crack was tried by 29% of arrestees and was the substance second least likely to be used in the last 12 months (27%), following cocaine. Those who used it in the past 30 days did so about every one in three days, on average (8.9). Males were significantly more likely to have ever used crack (34%) compared to females (20%) and reported more frequent crack use in the past 30 days (9.8 versus 5.5) (not shown).
In addition to these five drugs, almost two-thirds (64%) of arrestees reported having ever tried at least one of nine other illicit substances, including hallucinogens (39%), ecstasy (39%), LSD (34%), spice (22%), GHB (19%), PCP (17%), inhalants (16%), ketamine (14%), and kratom (11%).[5] When those who had ever used an illegal substance were asked if they had used it in the past 30 days, PCP users were most likely to respond affirmatively (20%), followed by hallucinogen (19%) and inhalant (15%) users.
Note: Past 30 Days (n=20-102), Ever (n=281-302). Cases with missing information not included.
In addition to the high percentage of the usage of “club drugs,” synthetic drug use has remained steady, as demonstrated by the 22% who reported ever using spice.[6] Although marijuana is legalized in California, more than half (56%) of those who reported ever using spice said they used it as an alternative and 30% said they use it to avoid a positive drug test.

How do drug market dynamics vary for each drug type, according to arrestees?

Over the years, a number of standard questions have been asked of arrestees regarding drugs they may have obtained, including what they traded to get it (cash and/or non-cash means), how easy it was to obtain, and if they got it in the same area in which they lived.
As the table below shows:
  • Marijuana was most likely to be reported as “very easy” to obtain (74%) among the five drugs in 2022. Meth followed with 51% reporting it was “very easy” to obtain.
  • Aside from crack and marijuana, about one in seven (70%) of arrestees were able to obtain their drug of choice in the major statistical area (MSA)[7] in which they lived. The range was 44% of those obtaining crack to 77% of those obtaining meth.
  • Regardless of the drug, arrestees reported obtaining the substance through cash, as well as non-cash means. Cocaine and crack were the substances obtained more frequently with non-cash means, compared to cash.
  • Arrestees were asked about buying drugs on the regular internet or dark web and if they had ever used electronic currencies (e.g., bitcoin) or digital money transfer systems (e.g., PayPal, Venmo, Zelle). Overall, only 5% reported ever purchasing drugs on the regular internet and 1% on the dark web. Ten percent (10%) reported they had ever used electronic currency or digital money transfer systems to buy drugs.
In addition, more detailed questions have been added over the years regarding marijuana, including how individuals obtain the drug.
  • Over two-thirds (69%) of arrestees reported they obtained marijuana in more than one way in 2022. When individuals who reported obtaining marijuana in two or more ways were asked about their most common ways of obtaining it, 97% reported from a recreational dispensary, 73% said on the street, and 62% reported delivery from a dispensary (not shown).
  • As shown below, the two most common ways to obtain marijuana over the past 12 months (regardless of how many methods were used) were from a recreational dispensary (78%) and the street (59%). When asked their preferred method, 45% said a recreational dispensary, followed by 27% saying on the street.
Note: Obtained at all past 12 months (n=176) Preferred method past 12 months (n=151). Cases with missing information not included. Percentages based on multiple responses.

What do we know about prescription drug abuse by the arrestee population?

Within the series of questions related to prescription drug use, arrestees are asked to specify if they had used a prescription drug with a prescription (legally), without a prescription (illegally), or both. The graph below presents the percentage who reported any illegal use. In 2022, 49% of arrestees reported they had ever abused prescription drugs, with the most commonly abused including tranquilizers (i.e., benzodiazepines), fentanyl, and OxyContin. The drugs most often used both ways (legally and illegally) included Vicodin (4%), Percocet (3%), Codeine (3%), Tramadol (2%), and tranquilizers (2%).
Note: Cases with missing information not included.
When those who had ever abused a prescription drug were asked if they had abused it in the past 30 days, the four most common drugs currently being abused included fentanyl (62%), barbiturates (24%), tranquilizers (13%), and Darvon/Darvocet (11%) (not shown).
Additional analyses revealed that White arrestees were significantly more likely to report abusing prescription drugs (56%), compared to arrestees of other ethnic groups (46% Hispanic/Latino(a) and 30% Black/African American). Additionally, arrestees who abused prescription drugs were significantly more likely to test positive for marijuana (61% versus 44%) and meth (67% versus 39%).
Almost three in every ten (29%) heroin users said they were dependent on prescription opiates before they began using the street drug and of these, 71% said they began to use heroin as a substitute for prescription opiates. When asked which opiates they were addicted to, 58% said OxyContin, 50% Vicodin, 42% Percocet, 31% Dilaudid, 23% fentanyl, 19% methadone, 15% Demerol, and 15% morphine. When asked why they switched from prescription drugs to heroin, the most common answers included that heroin was easier (61%) and cheaper (56%) to get. One-third (33%) also said it gave them a “better high."
When asked how difficult it was to obtain prescription drugs illegally, just under three fifths (58%) said it was “very easy” or “easy”.

What does fentanyl use look like among the arrestee population in San Diego County?

Given the growing national concern over the fatality of fentanyl, a deeper dive was necessary to further understand the characteristics of non-prescribed fentanyl use in San Diego County. As noted earlier, fentanyl was the second most commonly abused prescription drug at 23%, following tranquilizers (24%). Compared to last year’s percentage (18%), this year’s has increased by 5%, however, compared to ten years ago, this percentage has increased by nearly 20%.

While reported fentanyl use has continued to increase over the years, 86% of arrestees said they would not purchase it, but there were differences across several different variables. Specifically,
  • Arrestees between 25 and 39 (19%) and those under 25 (14%) were significantly more likely to say they would buy it compared to those 40 and over (5%);
  • Those positive for meth were significantly more likely to say they would use it (21%), compared to those who were not positive for meth (5%); and
  • Those positive for opiates were significantly more likely to say they would use it (45%), compared to those who were not positive for opiates (11%).

What do we know about tobacco use and vaping?

Given the growth in e-cigarettes and vaping over the past several years, a series of questions address the history of vaping, the types of products vaped, and the frequency of use of vaping products.
  • Overall, 59% of adult arrestees reported currently using tobacco products, and a new question asked in 2022 revealed that 10% of arrestees reported tobacco being the first substance they ever used.
  • Females were significantly more likely to report ever using tobacco (68%) compared to males (54%). There were no significant differences in tobacco use by race/ethnicity or age.
  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) reported they had ever vaped. There were no significant differences in reported vaping history by gender, race/ethnicity, or age.
  • Individuals who reported using tobacco products were significantly more likely to report vaping (68%), compared to those who do not use tobacco products (32%).
  • Just under sixty percent (58%) of arrestees who had ever vaped said they had done so in the last 30 days and of those, the average number of days vaped was 15.80 (range 1 to 30).
  • When asked what they had vaped, the most common answer was flavored nicotine (74%), followed by THC/marijuana (53%), and non-flavored nicotine (30%).


  • About two-thirds (65%) of those interviewed reported ever being homeless and 34% described themselves as being homeless in the past 30 days.
  • The majority (72%) said they had first become homeless while living in San Diego County, as opposed to somewhere else.
  • The most common reasons homeless individuals gave for becoming homeless were loss of job (47%), money issues (44%), loss of family (24%), and drug use/addiction (19%).
Note: Percentages based on multiple response.
Overall, 36% of arrestees reported they had ever been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Fifty-nine percent (59%) reported they had been arrested just once for driving under the influence, 25% twice, and 15% three or more times. When asked what they had consumed when they drove under the influence most recently, 65% said alcohol, 21% drugs, and 14% both alcohol and drugs. When the individuals who had used drugs were asked which type of drug, 66% said meth, 26% marijuana, 6% heroin, 3% crack, and 23% some other type of drug (e.g., prescription).
In terms of how self-reported alcohol and drug use is potentially related to risky behavior, as the graph below shows, arrestees were more likely to report that drug use preceded each of the four outcomes (health problems, DUI, riding with someone under the influence, and participating in sexual acts), compared to alcohol.
This effort would not be possible without the cooperation of the San Diego County Sheriff’s and Probation Departments, and the funding support of the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), County of San Diego, and SANDAG member agencies. To learn more about the SAM program and to access other current reports, as well as aggregate data from the adult arrestee addendum, please visit this page.

  1. Aside from 2013 and 2014 when PCP was replaced with alcohol on the drug test panel, the percent positive has been based on marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine/crack, opiates, and PCP.
  2. The drug test panel continues to include marijuana even though California voters approved Proposition 64 on November 8, 2016. Marijuana will continue to be tested while it remains illegal federally and because changes in use pre- and post-legalization among this population is expected to continue to be an issue of interest.
  3. Polydrug use refers to the use of two or more psychoactive drugs in combination to achieve a particular effect.
  4. A positive opiate drug test could indicate use of opiates other than heroin, including morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and codeine.
  5. Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia with leaves that contain compounds with psychotropic effects. Kratom is not illegal at the time of this report and is sold as an extract or gum.
  6. “Club drugs,” also referred to as party or rave drugs, are often used recreationally at events to heighten sensory experiences. The substances that fall into this categorization include hallucinogens, ecstasy, and LSD.
  7. There are seven MSAs in the San Diego region that describe different geographical areas of the County. To view these MSAs on a map, please visit https://sdgis.sandag.org/.