CDC Data Shows The Geographic Imprint Of The Opioid Epidemic

By Kelly Burch 12/15/16

The analysis found that opioid deaths hit the eastern part of the country at a higher rate than the west. 

Map of United States

In 2015, more than 33,000 people died of opioid overdoses, but the deaths were not spread very evenly across the county. Instead, they were concentrated in areas like Ohio and New England that have been particularly hard-hit by the epidemic.

In a new analysis, the Washington Post used data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database. (WONDER stands for wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research.) 

First, the Post looked at overall opioid death rates. According to the data, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia made up one bubble of particularly high death rates; and New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island make up another. In these areas, there are between 20 and 36 deaths per 100,000 people, more than double the national average of 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people. 

Opioid deaths were lowest in California, Texas, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. In those states, there were fewer than between three and five opioid deaths per 100,000 people. Overall, states west of the Mississippi river saw significantly fewer opioid deaths. Among western states, New Mexico and Utah had the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths, with between 15 and 20 per 100,000 residents. 

The Washington Post then broke the data down, looking at deaths from heroin, synthetic opioids, and semi-synthetic or "classic" opioids.

Heroin death rates were highest in Ohio, West Virginia, and Connecticut, where the rates were between 10 and 13.3 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Synthetic opioid death rates were highest—again—in Ohio, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Interestingly, the analysis showed that synthetic opioids—including fentanyl and carfentanil—almost exclusively affect the East Coast. Missouri is the only state west of the Mississippi to have a synthetic opioid death rate of more than 2.5 people per 100,000. By contrast, in New Hampshire the synthetic opioid death rate is 24.1 deaths per 100,000 people. That is the highest rate in the nation. 

Finally, the Post looked at deaths from semi-synthetic opioids, a classification for drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone. These deaths were spread more evenly throughout the country, with West Virginia and Utah having the highest death rates for 2015. 

To see the maps and the complete data set, view the story here.  

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.