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Record Opioid Mortality in America Likely to Remain at Current Lethal Level for Years, U.S. News Analysis Finds

Record Opioid Mortality in America Likely to Remain at Current Lethal Level for Years, U.S. News Analysis Finds Exclusive analysis draws on two decades of CDC data to reveal the sharp uptick in opioid deaths points to a dire 'new normal' for the country

PR Newswire

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Opioid mortality is five times higher than it was at the turn of the century and is likely to remain at the same level or rise even higher for years to come, according to an exclusive analysis for U.S. News & World Report.

The examination of nearly two decades of drug overdose deaths, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates short-term changes in the death toll – figures commonly looked to for signs of progress – mask the true magnitude of the opioid epidemic and the damage done in America.

Key findings from the analysis and related reporting include:

  • After years of steady increases, opioid mortality rates have soared to a level that likely marks the country's "new normal." The stabilization at this high rate – 14.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2017 – indicates the idea that the country is beginning to turn the tide on the opioid crisis is premature.
  • The biggest recent increases in mortality have emerged among black Americans. Between 2005 and 2013, the rate of fatal opioid overdoses among blacks in America averaged 3.7 deaths per 100,000 population, far below the 7.6 average rate for whites during that time. Yet between 2014 and 2017, the fatal overdose rate among blacks rose by 130 percent, compared with a 61.5 percent increase for whites over that period.
  • On average, higher rates of deaths of despair cut into a community's average life expectancy more than high violent crime rates or low rates of health insurance coverage.
  • A look at state death rates underscores how some opioid data can paint a misleading picture about the crisis as a whole. Opioid deaths in West Virginia in 2017 occurred at an age-adjusted rate of 49.6 per 100,000 people, while in the same year, Ohio's opioid death rate was 39.2 per 100,000. However, Ohio saw 4,293 opioid overdose deaths that year, compared with West Virginia's 833.
  • CDC data suggest Texas has a relatively small number of opioid deaths for a state of its size, but the data are incomplete. With a population of roughly 28 million, Texas reported only 1,458 opioid deaths in 2017, with a mortality rate of 5.1 per 100,000 population. However, the state's current system to record and track these deaths is likely to downplay the magnitude of the problem, local researchers say.

"Too often, public health officials, journalists and politicians from both parties have been chasing the next data point in the opioid crisis and have claimed that we're successfully tackling the crisis, but through these findings we see that the opioid crisis is getting worse, not better," said Rocco Perla, who led the U.S. News analysis and is co-founder of a new nonprofit, The Health Initiative. "Only when we look at the data over time can we learn what is or isn't working and which of the opioid-focused dollars, task forces and agencies are actually saving lives."

These findings are accompanied by in-depth articles that spotlight the toll the opioid epidemic has taken on varied communities across the country including:

"Through in-depth analysis and quality journalism, we are able to examine health disparities affecting populations across the country," said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News. "Our reporting shines a light on the substantial toll communities have paid as a result of the rising opioid epidemic. We hope these findings can initiate change in areas across the nation that are deeply struggling."

About U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report is the global leader in quality rankings that empower people to make better, more informed decisions about important issues affecting their lives. A digital news and information company focused on Education, Health, Money, Travel, Cars and Civic, provides consumer advice, rankings and analysis to serve people making complex decisions throughout all stages of life. More than 40 million people visit each month for research and guidance. Founded in 1933, U.S. News is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

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SOURCE U.S. News & World Report

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Last Updated: 28-Jan-2019