Opioid Deaths Have Surpassed Vietnam War Fatalities, Study Says

By Beth Leipholtz 06/13/18

A new study examined the 15-year period from January 2001 to December 2016 to determine the number of American deaths caused by the opioid crisis.

opioid painkillers

American deaths as a result of the opioid crisis have surpassed those during the Vietnam War, a new study has found. 

According to the Washington Post, less than 1% of American deaths in the year 1968 were due to serving in the Vietnam war. Now, a new study has found that in 2016, 1.5% of deaths were at the hands of opioids. 

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the 15-year period from January 2001 to December 2016 to determine the number of American deaths caused by the opioid crisis.

It found that between 2001 and 2016, the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis rose from 9,489 to 42 ,245—a 345% increase.

According to the study, in 2001, opioids were responsible for 0.4% of deaths, or 1 in 255 people. But 15 years later, in 2016, that rose to 1.5%, or 1 in 65 deaths—a 292% increase. Study authors found that the greatest impact was on those ages 24 to 35, an age group in which 20% of deaths were associated with opioids. Study authors also found that deaths connected to opioids were more prominent in men than women.

In all, study authors estimate that in 2016 alone, nearly 1.7 million years of life were lost in the U.S. population due to the opioid crisis. 

“These findings highlight changes in the burden of opioid-related deaths over time and across demographic groups in the United States,” study authors wrote. “They demonstrate the important role of opioid overdose in deaths of adolescents and young adults as well as the disproportionate burden of overdose among men.”

Study findings also indicated that there has been an increase in the number of opioid-related deaths in those 55 and older. 

“The relative increase in recent years requires attention, as it could be indicative of an aging population with increasing prevalence of opioid use disorder,” study authors noted. “This is particularly problematic as recent estimates from the United States suggest that the prevalence of opioid misuse among adults aged 50 years and older is expected to double (from 1.2% to 2.4%) between 2004 and 2020.”

Because of the impact on those of younger ages, study authors also indicated that there is a need to put more programs and policies in place.

“Premature death from opioid-related causes imposes an enormous public health burden across the United States,” study authors wrote. “The recent increase in deaths attributable to opioids among those aged 15 to 34 years highlights a need for targeted programs and policies that focus on improved addiction care and harm reduction measures in this high-risk population.”

According to the Post, this research leaned on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, which is thought to underestimate the number of opioid deaths by 20 to 30%, resulting in a “conservative estimate” of the true impact of the crisis. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.