West Virginia, Ohio Top National Drug Overdose Death Rates

By Paul Gaita 08/23/19

Midwest states were among those with the lowest overdose death rates in the country.

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Statistics from the CDC show that drug overdose death rates in the United States rose nearly 10% between 2016 and 2017, with the highest death rates occurring in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the country.

Though all points in the U.S. saw significant increases during this time period, three states experienced the highest overdose death rates—West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky—as well as the District of Columbia. Opioids were involved in more than half of the overdose fatalities.

As shown by the CDC data, drug overdose deaths in the United States rose 9.6% between 2016 and 2017; the death toll from drug overdoses reached 70,237. Opioids were involved in 67.8% of those deaths, and of that number, the CDC stated that synthetic opioids other than methadone were the primary cause of death.

Big Increases

Twenty-three states saw what the CDC described as "significant" increases in drug overdose deaths during this time period, including Alabama, California, Illinois, Maine, New York and Wisconsin. Though certain states had substantially high increases from 2016 to 2017—death rates in Maine rose 19.9% during this period—the number of deaths per year in these states were actually lower on a year-to-year basis than other states.

For example, Ohio's death rate percentage between 2016 and 2017 was 18.4%, but the actual number of deaths in that state during those years, when adjusted for age and size of population, was significantly higher in the Buckeye State (4,329 per 100,000 in 2016 and 5,111 in 2017) than in Maine (353 per 100,000 in 2016 and 424 in 2017).

When age and number of residents was factored into the individual states' rates, Ohio ranked second in highest death rates, with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2017; it was preceded by West Virginia (57.8 per 100,000) and followed by the District of Columbia (44 per 100,000)—which actually saw a decrease, percentage wise, between 2016 and 2017—and Kentucky (37.2 per 100,000). 

The Lowest Death Rates

The states with the lowest death rates in 2017 were North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota, each of which either dropped or experienced death rates below 6% between 2016 and 2017.

Response to the epidemic by state-run agencies has made improvements in death rates for 2018 and beyond.

The New York Times noted that areas in Ohio, including the city of Dayton, have utilized federal and state grants to help reduce opioid prescriptions, expand access to the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and increase addiction treatment to residents and prison inmates. As a result, emergency room visits dropped by more than 60% between January 2017 and June of 2018.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.