Opioid-Related Death Rates May Be Higher Than We Think

The opioid epidemic may be harder to fight than originally thought.  A new study has revealed that the number of deaths due to opioid-related overdoses could be 28% higher than what is originally reported. The documentation relating to overdose deaths, often times, does not reveal the type of drug that caused the overdose.

This underreporting of opioid-related deaths can result in the downplaying the severity of the opioid crisis we are facing in this country. The study delved further into these overdoses and uncovered that the type of drug that caused the overdose. It looked at a total of 632,331 drug overdoses between 1999 and 2016. Of these deaths, 78.2% were drug overdoses with known drug classification and 21.8% were unclassified drug overdoses. Of the unclassified drug overdoses, further investigation revealed that 71.8% involved opioids, translating to 99,160 additional opioid-related deaths.  Additionally, there were 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to an estimate from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and based on the findings from the new study, over half of those deaths -- about 47,000 -- are suspected to have involved opioids.

The rate of non-fatal overdoses has also increased and is likely underestimated. Unless the individual received medical care and the case was then reported, it is hard to document.  There is little incentive for a person to report the overdose themselves fearing stigmatization and possible legal consequences.

It is so important that the data collection on opioid-related deaths be as accurate as possible.  The data is used to implement policies and determine federal funding to combat this terrible epidemic we are facing. At the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, we will continue our efforts and share prevention messages and educate the public about the dangers of opioids and other illicit drugs.

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