Connecting state and local government leaders

CDC: Drug Overdose Deaths Have Doubled Since 1999


Connecting state and local government leaders

The drugs that are killing people have evolved—from pills to heroin to fentanyl.

The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has more than doubled since 1999, according to new data released on Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roughly 6.1 people out of 100,000 died of a drug overdose in 1999. By 2015, that number had increased to 16.3.

That same research also shines light on what public health officials already knew to be true about nationwide patterns of addiction—people become hooked on opioids by way of prescription painkillers, and move on to heroin and synthetic forms of the drug, like fentanyl, as official crackdowns drive down the supply of those medications, and increase the price.  

In the last five years alone, overdose deaths that involved heroin have tripled—from 8 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015.

The shift away from prescription painkillers is clear. In fact, the percentage of deaths related to so-called “natural” and “semisynthetic” opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone has gone down, while the rate of deaths involving more potent synthetic variants are on the rise—from 8 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2015.

Here are some other major findings from the CDC’s report:

  • The four states with the highest drug overdose rates in 2015 were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3), Kentucky (29.9) and Ohio (29.9).
  • The greatest percentage increase in the death rate was for adults between the ages of 55 and 64. That rate climbed from 4.2 per 100,000 in 1999 to 21.8 out of 100,000 in 2015.
  • Demographic research shows that this health crisis is predominantly affecting white communities. In 2015, the drug overdose death rate for whites was 21.1 per 100,000, compared with 12.2 for blacks and 7.7 percent for Hispanics.

Quinn Libson is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.

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