Accidental Death Rate

How are we doing?

The Department of the Medical Examiner has jurisdiction to investigate all unnatural deaths occurring in the county.  This includes deaths from accidents, homicides and suicides.  The Medical Examiner will investigate some natural deaths if they are sudden and unexpected.
In 2019, the Medical Examiner investigated 3,347 deaths occurring within the county.  Of those, 50 percent (1,664) were determined to be accidents (such as prescription or illicit drug toxicity, motor vehicle or pedestrian injuries, and industrial/agriculture-related or home-based injuries).  In 2019, the rate of accidental deaths in our county was 49.6 deaths for every 100,000 residents, compared to 47.4 per 100,000 in 2018. 
Looking at accidental deaths, the number of deaths due to methamphetamine use rose again in 2019, and it remains the number-one drug involved in accidental drug fatalities in the county.  But there has been continued significant increases in overdose deaths involving the drug fentanyl (151 deaths in 2019, up from 92 deaths in 2018 and 84 in 2017).  The number of pedestrian deaths is also high, representing 33% of all accidental motor vehicle-related fatalities in 2019.  Pedestrians being hit by motor vehicles is the second-most common cause of death for the county’s homeless population.

How is it measured?

Since the Department of the Medical Examiner investigates all accidental deaths in the county, we can measure the accidental death rate (the number of accidental deaths per 100,000 people in the county). 
In determining whether a death is accidental, or a suicide, homicide, natural, or of undetermined manner, staff members investigate and consider the history and circumstances of a death, along with the results of the postmortem examination (autopsy) and toxicology or other test results.  Information about each death is then recorded in a database, and statistics including the manner and causes of deaths are tabulated annually.

Why is it important?

Tracking the accidental death rate in our county helps tell us how effective our current safety and intervention efforts are.  It also helps us prioritize for the future.  Recognizing trends in causes of accidental deaths allows us to direct resources toward preventing future injuries or loss of life.  

Medical Examiners performing forensic tests.

Where are we going?

The County continues to monitor the causes of accidental deaths to look for opportunities to prevent future injuries and death. We continue to collect information on accidental deaths as it is considered a reflection of the trends in injuries, many of which may be preventable.
In an effort to prevent accidental deaths, the Department of Medical Examiner provides data to various subject matters experts. This includes numerous groups working to increase public safety, such as the County’s Methamphetamine Strike Force, Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, the Elder and Dependent Adult Death Review Team, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, the Child Death Review Team, Emergency Medical System, SANDAG, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and other law enforcement agencies and researchers.