Union Tribune

November 12, 2003

Drug use rate in jail higher for women than men


WASHINGTON In San Diego County's lockups, the inmates most likely to test positive for cocaine and methamphetamine use may be surprising to some: They are women.

In the past decade, women jailed in San Diego have been found to be using a wider variety of drugs and more frequently than incarcerated men, according to the Justice Department's Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program.

The trend also has been documented in other parts of the country.

"I guess it doesn't shock me," said Sandy Keaton, senior research analyst for the San Diego Association of Governments. "Women have become more representative in the jail population and it has caught national attention. Many of their offenses are surrounded by drug abuse."

Traditionally, incarcerated men tested positive for any drug at a higher rate nationwide than women.

Three years ago, the Justice Department released a study that showed women arrested in San Diego County had tested positive for methamphetamine with greater frequency than men since 1995.

In the most recent study, conducted last year, women continued to test positive more for methamphetamine use than men, 37 percent to 34 percent.

Women also tested positive for cocaine and other drugs more than men, according to the study. Twenty-one percent of the women and 12 percent of the men arrested in San Diego tested positive for cocaine. Men were more likely to test positive for marijuana than women, 37 percent to 33 percent.

Overall, women arrested in San Diego had a higher rate for testing positive for drugs than men, 72 percent to 66 percent.

The studies were compiled from data culled through confidential interviews with and urine samples taken from people booked into detention centers in San Diego and across the country.

Of 23 metropolitan areas surveyed nationwide, San Diego ranked eighth in overall drug use among people arrested.

Slightly more women in San Diego tested positive for using multiple drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and other substances, than the national median. San Diego men tested slightly more than the national median.

"I saw the report and it's interesting," said Cesar Solis, head of the San Diego Police Department's narcotics team. But "what we're seeing is more methamphetamine among men on the streets."

Solis and other law enforcement officials said they were perplexed by some of the trends revealed in the study.

"We have to look at this a little deeper," he said.

The survey identified regional differences regarding drug of choice.

"Methamphetamine is more related to the West, while cocaine is more associated with the New York City area," said David Bowen, chief operating officer at the St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center in New York. "It's really a good question as to why these trends exist."

Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City and Indianapolis all had a higher percentage of jailed women who tested positive for drug use than San Diego, the study showed.

While Salt Lake City and Indianapolis reported having fewer jailed men who had taken drugs than San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson had greater numbers of men who had taken drugs.

Jeanne McAlister, chief executive of the McAllister Institute of Treatment and Education in San Diego, said many of the drug problems seen at the facility are linked to relationships between men and women.

"One of the biggest problems we see is that when we get women cleaned up, they find a boyfriend who uses it, and the woman goes back on it again," McAlister said. "A woman left on her own without a man usually manages to get (her) act together."