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Murder Rate Drops, Suicides at Record Levels in County

San Diego County CA– (CNC) The Medical Examiner’s Office released its 2013 Annual Report today, which reflects data on the nearly 10,000 deaths in the County reported to them last year. This represents half of the approximately 20,000 deaths that occur yearly in the County. The report focuses on the 2,974 deaths in which they took jurisdiction, a number that includes all of the non-natural deaths in the County as well as certain natural deaths. The report in its entirety can be found here [Link]

Under California law the Medical Examiner is both required and empowered to determine the cause and circumstance (manner) of certain deaths. In general, deaths of a sudden and unexpected nature and those related to any type of injury or intoxication must be reported to the Medical Examiner and investigated by our office. These include deaths that are obviously due to trauma (such as motor vehicle related fatalities) and deaths known or suspected to be due to drug or alcohol intoxication. In addition, if an injury or intoxication merely contributes to the death – even in a small way – or is suspected to have contributed to death, the death falls under the jurisdiction of the coroner. This applies when an individual dies of complications of a prior injury, even if that injury occurred many years prior to the death.

“One of the main reasons our office compiles this report is to help identify patterns and trends for various deaths, many of which are preventable,” said Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas. “This data is useful to identify issues that may need additional resources. The data may also show whether prevention education efforts are working to address previously identified problems.”

The office performed autopsies on 1,955 of the cases, and 1,019 cases were given external examinations. The Medical Examiner’s Office only investigates about 5 percent of natural deaths in the county. This subset of natural deaths tends to be younger individuals and more sudden and unexpected than most of the natural deaths in the county.

In San Diego County, 45 percent or 1,327 deaths were accidental; 36 percent or 1,068 were natural deaths; 15 percent or 441 were suicides; 3.3 percent or 88 were homicides; and in 1.3 percent or 40 cases, the manner of death could not be determined.

  • Homicides continue to remain at low levels compared to recent decades. In 2013, 88 homicides were reported; 122 were reported in 2012; and 93 were reported in 2011. In 2013, 39 deaths were due to firearms; 22 deaths were due to cutting or stabbing; and 15 deaths were by blunt force. Ten officer-involved shootings are noted in a small subset for 2013.
  • The number of suicides at 441 deaths was the highest on record.
  • Prescription drug deaths fell slightly in number from last year, but levels remain near the peak of a 14-year period. Prescription drug deaths also remain the most common cause of accidental deaths.
  • Methamphetamine was the leading drug in accidental overdose deaths, and set a record with 190 deaths for 2013. Alcohol was the next drug leading to 127 accidental deaths. Heroin deaths also continue to increase, and with 89 deaths had the third most accidental deaths. Most of the accidental heroin overdose deaths were among people in their 20s.
  • In 2013, 247 people died in motor vehicle-related collisions, down from 270 fatalities in 2012. These fatalities also include passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Alcohol remains a major factor in motor vehicle-related deaths.
  • The leading cause of natural deaths in the Medical Examiner cases remains cardiovascular disease. Obesity continues to be a major risk factor in natural deaths.

Each death is assigned a Medical Examiner Investigator, who will generally go to the location of the death, interview family and friends, and obtain medical records, providing a synopsis of the circumstances surround the death. In the majority of cases a postmortem examination (autopsy) is conducted by a physician specializing in forensic pathology in order to determine the cause of death, and a death certificate will be completed. This examination normally occurs within three days of our receipt of the decedent’s body, but usually the next day. Our forensic pathologist staff will assess whether an autopsy and/or laboratory tests are required as part of the examination. Autopsies are required in approximately 75% of the cases we examine. In the others, an examination of only the external surfaces of the body is performed and the death can be certified based upon investigation and review of the medical history. If we do not require an autopsy for our official purposes, the legal next-of-kin may request that we perform one at his/her expense.