Medical examiner reveals San Diego death trends - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Medical examiner reveals San Diego death trends

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Accidental falls and abuse of hard drugs caused more deaths in the San Diego area in 2010 than in prior years, while murders and deadly car crashes proved considerably less common, according to an annual report released Thursday by the county Medical Examiner's Office.

An "alarming" trend revealed by the regional fatality statistics was that heroin was the most common narcotic involved in controlled-substance deaths of those under age 30, according to Deputy Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas.

"This included seven teenage deaths, one of which was due to heroin withdrawals," Lucas said. "In this age group, that is more than the last 10 years combined."

The Medical Examiner's Office performed 2,718 autopsies and external examinations last year, according to agency spokeswoman Tracy DeFore.

Other key findings of those cases include:

-- the leading cause of death remained cardiovascular disease;

-- the next most common type of fatality was those caused by abuse of illegal or legal drugs, included a spike in deaths caused by heroin, methamphetamine and prescription medications;

-- accidental falls moved up to the No. 3 cause, an increase expected to continue as the local population grows collectively older;

-- suicides dropped to the fourth spot but were still up as compared with the first half of last decade;

-- motor-vehicle deaths showed a marked decrease since 2009; and

-- the number of homicides was the lowest in 20 years.

The annual report also provides insight into the work of the office, from response at initial investigations to notifying next-of-kin and performing autopsies and toxicology tests, DeFore said.

The document also highlights the agency's contributions to local brain studies and research into sudden-infant-death syndrome; its assistance with organ and tissue donation; and its work with regional committees, such as one that reviews domestic violence-related fatalities.

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