In the United States, drug-overdose related death rates have been steadily increasing every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, “Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).” In fact, during 2014 alone, a total 47,055 drug-overdose deaths occurred. This number reflects the new statistic which show that, on average, the number of drug-overdose related deaths rise 6.7% annually. But interestingly, the number of overdose deaths typically holds steady in areas with high drug trafficking. That being said, the places with the highest drug-overdose deaths are not usually the ones with the highest trafficking, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The results were published in the scientific journal Preventative Medicine.
Statistics Proving a Drastic Increase in Overdose
Since 1979, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that drug overdose death rates have increased 6.7% per year. However, the number has held steady in border counties, where the most drug trafficking occurs. What does this mean? Drugs appear to pass through these counties without impacting the death rates of their residents. Lead study author, Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, the deputy director of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology, explains that “Our research reveals several potential new drug overdose problem regions that warrant careful attention as they may not correspond to areas covered by federal resources to combat drug trafficking.”
Further, she adds that “Western Pennsylvania is one such area that is not considered to have high drug trafficking, but yet has one of the fastest growing drug overdose rates nationwide.”
Dr. Buchanich and her team examined the data provided by the Mortality and Population Data System – a collection of unique health data from the National Center for Health Statistics – housed at Pitt Public Health. They paid specific attention to overdose deaths in the US from 1979 to 2014. Why start at 1979? Because changes in how cause of death was reported made it impossible to make comparisons with previous years. As for why 2014, it was the most recent year that had data available.
Medical News Today report that “The counties with the largest increases in overdose death rates were clustered in southern Michigan; eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania; eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and much of southeastern New York; and coastal New England.” Conversely, however, counties in the Midwest, California, and Texas have all seen little to no increase in overdose death rates.
The study notes that “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas with high overdose death rates were mostly concentrated in Appalachia and the Southwest U.S.,” although areas with lower death rates were found near the borders in Texas, California, and Southern Florida.
Commenting on their findings, Dr. Buchanich, who is also a research assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics, states: “While resources are justifiably being targeted to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, they must also be allocated to counties outside those areas with rapidly increasing and currently high drug overdose rates.”
New Trends in Drug Overdose Deaths
Also uncovered in her research was that according to Pitts Public Health Mortality and Population Data System, there are certain demographic insights that could potentially be used to drug prevention and intervention efforts. These include:
- In 1979, overdose deaths occurred most frequently within the African-American population and among 25-34 year olds. By contrast, in 2014, rates were highest among Caucasians and those aged 45-54.
- Death rates for all age groups have increased since 1979. The smallest rate of growth, however, was in those older than 65 and the largest was within the 45-54 age range.
- In the mid-1990s, deaths by overdose began to increase for women, and by 2002 the number had increased dramatically.
- Rates for men began to rise in the mid-1980s, but these numbers also rose rapidly in 2002.
- Mortality rates due to drug use were slightly higher in urban areas than rural ones.
The Future of Overdose Research and Treatment
Dr. Buchanich aims to continue building upon her research into drug overdose statistics using funding from the Pitt Public Health opioid pilot grant program. The program allows recipients to explore different areas of the opioid overdose epidemic in the hopes that research-based information can be provided to aid public health interventions.