SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A record number of people succumbed to suicide and fatal prescription-drug overdoses in the San Diego area last year, according to a county Medical Examiner's Office report released Wednesday.
Additionally, the number of local homicides rose in 2012, for a second year in a row.
"Our office investigates every non-natural death in San Diego (County), and tragically many of these deaths are preventable," Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said. "The report reveals some of the serious issues and behaviors affecting ... residents and visitors."
In all, the agency investigated 2,853 deaths, performed 1,962 autopsies and conducted 901 external examinations in 2012. Of those fatalities, 44 percent were due to accidents, 36 percent resulted from natural causes, 15 percent were suicides and 4.6 percent were homicides. In 1 percent of cases, no manner of death could be determined.
There were 413 local suicides last year, for a rate of 13.1 per 100,000 population, according to the report. Though that rate has risen for six years in a row, it did not reach a record last year; the highest was 14.5 in 1993.
Conversely, the 2012 number of prescription-drug overdoses -- 269 -- was an all-time maximum, an outcome the county agency described as "part of a disturbing trend seen over the last seven years." The figure, however, was up only by two over the 2011 tally.
Heroin deaths continued an increase in frequency seen after 2007, with heroin the most common drug or medication in those from age 20 to 29 who died of an accidental overdose.
Excluding alcohol, methamphetamine, still the primary cause of drug-related deaths for the population as a whole, continued a four-year local increase, being linked to 142 fatalities in 2012. It was the most common substance in those between 40 and 69 years old who died from accidental overdoses.
The number of homicides in 2012 increased to 122, compared with 91 the prior year, according to the report. The past two years of increases came after the county reached a 20-year low in 2010.
A total of 270 people died in motor-vehicle accidents, compared with 242 in 2011. Such deaths, however, still are occurring at about half the rate of the early 1990s. The years 2010-12 each saw fewer traffic-related deaths and lower rates since 1988.
Of drivers killed in car accidents, 43 percent were over the legal limit for blood-alcohol content. Of 130 people who died in vehicle crashes, 42 were not wearing seat belts, while 67 were. Seat-belt use could not be determined in 20 of the cases, and one fatality involved a golf cart.
The leading cause of natural death locally in 2012 remained cardiovascular disease.
The Medical Examiner's Office advised anyone who might be at risk for suicide or a drug overdose, and their loved ones, to look into the following resources:
-- county Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Line, (888) 724-7240;
-- suicide prevention and awareness information online at up2sd.org; and
-- the 211 telephone service, which offers referrals to numerous family and individual assistance programs.