At a time when the country seems hopelessly divided, health officials are here to remind us of something that unites Americans from all walks of life: deaths tied to opioid overdoses.
Researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control examined data on fatal overdoses from the 31 states that made reliable reports of drug-related causes of death to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System. The District of Columbia was included as well.
The picture that emerges is of a public health crisis that touches just about every segment of the country.
"From 2015 to 2016, opioid-involved deaths increased in males and females and among persons aged ≥ 15 years, whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders," the researchers wrote. “Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased in every subgroup examined.”
Their findings appear in Friday’s edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Here's a by-the-numbers look at how the opioid epidemic is evolving.
The number of accidental opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2016. That figure represents 66% of all drug overdose deaths that year.
The age-adjusted rate of opioid overdose deaths in 2016. That means that for every 100,000 Americans, 13.3 died from taking a powerful dose of opioids.
By adjusting for age, researchers can estimate how many deaths there would have been if every state had the same age distribution of residents. Then they can make comparisons between states that skew younger and states with a higher proportion of elderly people.
That's how much the opioid overdose death rate increased in just one year, between 2015 and 2016. In 2015, there were 10.4 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people.
The increase in fatal opioid-related overdoses among Americans categorized as non-Hispanic blacks between 2015 and 2016. That was the biggest increase seen in any racial or ethnic group.
Asians and Pacific Islanders came in second at 36.4%, followed by Latinos at 32.6%. Among whites, the opioid-related overdose death rate increased by 25.9%, and among Native Americans it rose 14.9%.
For every 100,000 residents of West Virginia, that’s how many died in 2016 after overdosing on an opioid. It was the highest age-adjusted death rate among the states with reliable data.
Other states with high death rates included New Hampshire (35.8 deaths per 100,000 people), Ohio (32.9 deaths per 100,000 people), the District of Columbia (30 deaths per 100,000 people), Maryland (29.7 deaths per 100,000 people) and Massachusetts (also 29.7 deaths per 100,000 people).
The opioid overdose death rate for Texas. This was the lowest rate among the states in the study.
That’s the nationwide increase in deaths caused by prescription opioid medications. In 2015, there were 15,281 such deaths; by 2016, that there were 17,087.
The nationwide increase in fatal overdoses linked to synthetic opioids other than methadone. In other words, the death rate associated with these drugs doubled between 2015 and 2016.
That’s how much the death rate due to synthetic opioids increased among Latinos and Asians and Pacific Islanders between 2015 and 2016. In other words, it tripled.
The number of times the CDC report mentions illicitly manufactured fentanyl, or IMF. The researchers said IMF is “highly potent” and is probably fueling the spike in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids.
“IMF is now being mixed into counterfeit opioid and benzodiazepine pills, heroin, and cocaine, likely contributing to increases in overdose death rates involving other substances,” they wrote.
For every 100,000 people living in the United States, that’s how many died of a heroin overdose in 2016. The rate was nearly 20% higher in 2016 than it was in 2015.
The death rate due to heroin overdoses in the District of Columbia. At the other end of the spectrum were Oklahoma and Hawaii, both of which had 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
The number of "waves" in the epidemic of opioid overdose deaths, according to the CDC researchers. The first wave began in the 1990s, a result of prescription pain medications. The second wave followed in 2010, marked by fatal overdoses of heroin.
The current wave can be traced to the rise of IMF and other synthetic opioids, beginning in 2013. By 2016, these drugs were responsible for 45.9% of all opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S.
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For the record
9:32 a.m. April 6: This article incorrectly states that 4.9% of every 100,000 people living in the U.S. died of a heroin overdose in 2016. The accurate figure is 4.9 out of every 100,000 people died of a heroin overdose that year.