National Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Record High

By Kelly Burch 08/10/17

The president has declared a national state of emergency because of the opioid crisis.

ambulance driving through in the rain

Newly-released data from the federal government shows that overdose deaths have reached an all-time high, killing 19.9 Americans per 100,000 in the third quarter of 2016.

The data released by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that the death rate had risen from killing 16.7 people per 100,000 in 2015, which was a record high at the time. 

“Death rates from opioid overdose will continue to rise until we implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce harms and expand treatment for opioid use disorder using effective medications,” Dr. Peter Friedmann, associate dean for research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and chief research officer at the non-profit Baystate Health, told The Huffington Post.

The report was released on Tuesday, the same day that President Trump held a briefing on the opioid epidemic. There, he declined to declare a national state of emergency, which his opioid commission had called on him to do. Instead, Trump advocated for a tougher law enforcement approach to the epidemic. He did not discuss the need for better treatment options. 

Then two days later, Trump appeared to have changed his mind. According to USA Today, on Thursday he announced that it was time to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. "I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It is a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis." 

In May, analysis from The New York Times predicted that drug deaths had risen 19% during 2016, surpassing the peak annual death rates from HIV, gun deaths and car crash deaths. According to CNN, the data released this week shows that there was more than a 20% increase in drug deaths during the first quarter 2015 and the third quarter of 2016. 

However, even those numbers may not be capturing the extent of the opioid crisis. A report released this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that opioid and heroin related deaths are at least 22% higher than reported rates. This is partially due to inconsistencies in how overdose deaths are listed on death certificates.

And in April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing that opioid overdoses are underreported. The new study released this week illustrates the extent of this. 

“It's quite concerning, because it means that the (opioid) epidemic, which is already quite severe, could potentially be even worse," Dr. Victoria Hall, a CDC field officer based in Minnesota, told CNN at the time. "It does seem like it is almost an iceberg of an epidemic.”

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