SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Homicides, pedestrian fatalities and methamphetamine- related deaths were more numerous in the San Diego area in 2016 than in other recent years, authorities reported Thursday.
The findings are among the conclusions of a newly released annual report by the county Medical Examiner's Office.
"These statistics closely follow trends reported in 2015," said Glenn Wagner, chief medical examiner for the county. "The report provides a view of recent death trends in San Diego County, based on a subset of the total cases."
The study offers an overview of cases handled by the agency and examines trends in causes of death for the roughly 8,500 fatalities the agency investigates annually -- a little less than half of the 19,000 to 21,000 recorded in the county every year.
Following an initial review, many instances of mortality prove to be sudden and unexpected natural deaths.
The data in the report focus on the 3,070 cases in 2016 that the Medical Examiner's Office thoroughly investigated. Of those cases, 47 percent were accidental, including deaths related to prescription-drug overdoses, traffic- related injuries, and industrial/agricultural and home-based trauma.
Another 33 percent were determined to be natural deaths, 14 percent were suicides, a little more than 4 percent were homicides, and in nearly 2 percent the cause could not be determined.
The report notes that of the 307 motor-vehicle fatalities last year, pedestrian fatalities went up to 101 cases, excluding two that were ruled suicides -- an increase from 93 pedestrian fatality cases in 2015. The 101 unintentional pedestrian fatalities was the highest number since 1994, when there were 103 cases.
Another trend was a general increase over 15 years in unintentional deaths due to drugs and medications, up to 544 in 2016 compared to 268 in 2000. Among fatalities related to illicit drugs and prescribed medications, methamphetamine remained the single largest cause in 2016, with 240 cases, according to the report.
Methamphetamine death cases also reached their highest number in 16 years after increasing steadily since 2000, when there were 62 cases.
Among intoxicating substance-related deaths, alcohol had the second most cases with 106. Heroin overdoses were the third-largest cause, with 91 cases, and were most common in the age range of 20 to 29.
Opiates, including heroin, morphine and benzodiazepines, represented the largest group of medications in the 2016 drug deaths.
In 2016, the San Diego area also saw four cases involving so-called designer drugs. They included deaths from acetyl fentanyl, mitragynine -- a plant-based opioid commonly referred to as kratom -- and U-47700, an opioid analgesic not intended for human use.
Homicide rates also increased compared with the three prior years. In 2016, there were 116 homicides, compared to 93 in 2015, 90 in 2014 and 88 in 2013. In 2012, there were 122 cases. Last year, 50 cases were due to firearms, 26 to cutting or stabbing, 22 to blunt force and seven to asphyxiation. The other 11 were from less common causes, such as poisoning, drowning or environmental exposure.
Suicides increased slightly last year with 431 cases, compared with 427 in 2015.
The findings in the report "are valuable to the law enforcement, mental- health and drug-rehabilitation communities and help guide how we direct resources to county initiatives like Live Well San Diego and the associated task forces on suicides, elder abuse, domestic violence, child fatalities, (and) methamphetamine and prescription-drug abuse," Wagner said.
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