The Opioid Epidemic: A Plague for Modern Times
In a recent article, The New York Times estimates that more than 59,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, an increase of 19 percent over drug deaths in 2015. If this estimate proves to be accurate, this total would surpass deaths from car accidents and represents the largest year-over-year increase in drug deaths ever recorded in the United States. For Americans under 50, drug overdose is now the top cause of death, the Times reports.
The Times created its estimate using data collected by health departments, county coroners, and medical examiners throughout the United States. The data suggest that overdose deaths are most numerous along the East Coast, especially Florida, Maine, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Ohio has also seen high rates of overdose, with an estimated increase in overdose deaths of more than 25 percent in 2016.
However, data for parts of the western United States indicate that drug deaths have stabilized or decreased. Experts hypothesize that these regional differences result from the historical popularity of powdered heroin in the eastern states and Mexican black tar heroin found west of the Mississippi River.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 95 million Americans took prescription painkillers last year, more than the number who use tobacco products. Another two million Americans are estimated to currently be dependent on opioids.
The process of certifying drug deaths can take up to six months to account for variations in the way death certificates are filled out and to determine whether drugs are responsible for the death or merely part of a patient’s treatment. A final determination of drug deaths for 2016 should be available this December.
Cordant Health Services is dedicated to combating the opioid epidemic. To learn about the latest trends in opioid abuse and testing, watch our educational video:
To read the full New York Times article on drug overdose deaths, click here: