Drug overdoses are skyrocketing across the U.S., prompting multiple states and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency declarations. Provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that drug overdoses are now responsible for at least 66,000 deaths annually (more than three times higher than in 1999) and are the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50. Drugs now kill more people in the U.S. each year than either car accidents or guns.
It’s well understood that this increase in overdose deaths is being driven up by surges in opioid abuse, including both prescription opioids and heroin. Over 65% of drug overdose deaths today involve an opioid. To make matters worse, the recent uptick in synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — a man-made opioid that is 50x more potent than heroin — is pushing the death toll even higher.
A new CDC Vitalsigns study based on emergency room visits between July 2017 and September 2017 shows the trend isn’t slowing down either. ER visits for opioid overdoses rose another 30% nationally during that time. That said, certain states have been hit substantially harder than others according to an analysis by Branch Publishing.
Using CDC Cause of Death data from 2016, the above heatmap shows that East Coast states — specifically, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Maryland — are experiencing the highest death rates. East Coast states also show the largest increases in death rates when comparing 2006 to 2016 as shown in the map below. For example, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the fatal opioid overdose rate increased by over 400% between 2006 and 2016; compare that with Oregon and Washington, which actually saw decreases over the same time period.
One trend to highlight is that the most recent CDC Vitalsigns study, mentioned above, reported the largest overdose increases in the Midwest, which is different from what’s been seen historically, suggesting the epidemic could be spreading to regions previously less impacted. So, regardless of location, it’s clear that the opioid crisis is an issue deserving immediate attention. For more information, the below list (ordered by age-adjusted opioid drug overdose rates) shows how all 50 states and the District of Columbia are being impacted and how each compares to the national average.
The information used for this analysis was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Data is from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2016, released December, 2017, and accessed on Mar 7, 2018. Opioid overdose deaths were determined using the ICD-10 underlying cause of death codes. Among deaths where the underlying cause was “Poisoning by Narcotics and Psychodysleptics”, the following codes were included in the analysis: T40.0 (Opium), T40.1 (Heroin), T40.2 (Other opioids), T40.3 (Methadone), T40.4 (Other synthetic narcotics), and T40.6 (Other and unspecified narcotics). All death rates reported are age-adjusted per 100,000 people. For each state, the 10-year percent change in death rate was determine by comparing the opioid overdose death rate in 2016 to that in 2006. The most impacted age group for each state was determined by selecting the age group in that state with the highest absolute opioid overdose death rate. The most impacted county for each state was determined by selecting the county with the highest age-adjusted opioid overdose death rate. “Unknown” is reported when there is not enough data to be reliable.