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Drug overdose ranks as one of county's highest killers - Autopsies show drug- and medication-related deaths second only to heart disease, Fallbrook to hold prescription drug 'take back'

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office has recently released information relating to “concerning trends” of the ways in which people are dying.

According to a recent press release from the Medical Examiner, the office performed 2,707 autopsies and examinations in 2009. Of those cases, the leading cause of death was cardiovascular disease, accounting for 592 cases. That was followed by drug- and medication-related deaths, with 443 cases.

“The number of drug-related deaths continues to rise, and it is not just illegal drugs but also prescription medications that are involved. Drug-related deaths have increased 85 percent over the past 10 years,” said Chief Medical Examiner Glenn Wagner, D.O.

The largest concern for investigating officials is the age at which drug users begin consuming the drugs.

“Based on interviews of those arrested and with parents, teenagers are beginning to abuse prescriptions drug in the later years of high school,” said Amy Roderick, the public information officer for the San Diego Field Division of the United States Department of Justice. “Some [drug users] have admitted using or knowing someone as young as 14 years of age who has used.”

The heavy use begins around age 18-25, said Roderick.

“[Drug abusers] are using oxycodone products like Oxycontin, Roxicodone; hydrocodone products such as Vicodin, and benzodiazepines (Xanax, valium) and Soma.”

About half of the deaths in the county are reported to the Medical Examiner – approximately 11,000 deaths each year. About 3,000 of those lead to investigations. From those investigations, it has been found that drug- and alcohol-related deaths have been the number one cause of non-natural deaths since 2003. There were 132 alcohol-related deaths last year.

As a way to help prevent unnecessary deaths, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has helped organize a Prescription Drug Take Back Day in San Diego County on Sat. Sept. 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at a large number of locations. No questions will be asked about where the drugs came from.

Locally, unused or old prescription drugs can be dropped off at the Fallbrook Sheriff’s Substation, 388 E. Alvarado St. In addition, individuals on base can dispose of their medication and prescription drugs at the Joe on the Go Parking Lot, adjacent to Bldg 20850 at the Main Gate area.

For more information about the Prescription Drug Take Back Day, go to For help with prescription drug abuse, call the Rx Abuse Hotline at (877) 662-6384.

To see the complete Medical Examiner 2009 statistics, visit

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