Drug Overdose Death Rates Keep Rising in More Than Half of U.S. States

By McCarton Ackerman 06/25/15

America’s drug addiction problem shows no signs of slowing down.

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A new report has found that drug overdose death rates have increased in 26 states and Washington, D.C., while also continuing to surpass car crashes as the leading cause of injury-related deaths.

The findings released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that 44,000 people die from drug overdoses each year, half of which are related to prescription pills. The amount of overdose deaths has also doubled from 1999 to 2013.

West Virginia, Kentucky, and Nevada had the highest number of drug overdose deaths, while North Dakota had the lowest. Six states reported a decrease in these types of deaths, while the remaining states reported no substantial changes.

Amber Williams, executive director of Safe States Alliance, linked this increase to overdose deaths with an increase in prescriptions for opioid medications.

"Over 10 years, the opioid prescriptions have quadrupled, but there's not a change in the overall pain that Americans had in that same period," she explained. "There's definitely a mismatch between the prescriptions and the health issues because the issues have remained the same."

Howard Josepher, a social worker and president and CEO of Exponents, a New York City-based drug treatment facility, believes that the rise of deaths can also be attributed to an increase in mixing alcohol with these medications. He said that many Americans are still unaware of the dangers of doing so.

"Overdose isn't just from heroin or opioids,” said Josepher. “Many times people are drinking or taking other kinds of drugs, and it isn't an overdose as much as a drug poisoning issue."

States across the country have begun taking action to address this growing problem. Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., now have laws allowing some form of access to overdose antidote naloxone, a four-fold jump since 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also currently reviewing applications from states looking for funding to beef up their drug prevention efforts. Grants ranging from $750,000 to $1 million each year for the next four years will be awarded to 15 to 16 states.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.