Opioid Deaths Quadruple Since 1999

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Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) has quadrupled, accounting for six out of every 10 drug overdose deaths. Current estimates show that 91 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC1.   

Opioid deaths are increasing at alarming rates across the states. And while state policies to reduce the availability of prescription opioids are working to reduce overdose deaths, heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses are beginning to climb.2

Fast Facts About the Impact of Opioids in the United States

The economic burden of prescription opioid misuse is estimated to be $78.5 billion per year, including health care costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.3

About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.4

In 2015, 33,091 people died from an opioid overdose.5

In 1999, opioid overdose deaths accounted for 48 percent of all drug overdose deaths. In 2015, the percentage of opioid deaths increased to 63 percent.6

Two million people were diagnosed with prescription opioid use disorder in 2015.7

Opioid Overdose Death Rates in the States

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia experienced an increase in total opioid overdose deaths and an increase in the rate of opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2015. (No data available in 1999 for Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.)

In terms of total opioid overdose deaths, the five states with the highest number of deaths in 2015 were  Massachusetts (1,550); Florida (1,838); California (2,018); New York (2,166); and Ohio (2,698). These figures are strongly connected to population, but there are states with higher populations reporting fewer deaths than these states in 2015.

The five states with the lowest number of
opioid overdose deaths in 2015 were South Dakota (27); North Dakota (34); Wyoming (46); Montana (48); and Nebraska (55).

Regarding the rate of increase in opioid deaths, some different states are revealed. The five states showing the highest rate increases for opioid deaths from 1999 to 2015 were West Virginia (18.7 times higher rate in 2015); Ohio (16 times higher rate in 2015); Kentucky (15 times higher rate in 2015); Iowa (11.2 times higher rate in 2015); and Michigan (10.8 times higher rate in 2015).

The five states showing the lowest rate increases for opioid deaths from 1999 to 2015 were California (1.2 times higher rate in 2015); Washington (1.6 times higher rate in 2015); New Mexico (1.6 times higher rate in 2015); Nevada (1.7 times higher rate in 2015); and Hawaii (1.7 times higher rate in 2015).

Types of Opioids Causing Overdose Deaths is Changing

Over the last 15 years, one emerging trend is the increase in synthetic opioids and heroin as the cause of overdose deaths. For many years, prescription opioids made up a larger percentage of opioid deaths, but heroin and synthetic opioids have overtaken prescription opioids in terms of overdose deaths in recent years. In 1999, heroin or synthetic opioids (other than methadone, which is primarily used to treat opioid addiction), were named in approximately 33 percent of opioid overdose deaths. Fast forward to 2015, synthetic opioids or heroin were identified in approximately 68 percent of all opioid overdose deaths. Data from the CDC show a steep rise in synthetic opioid and heroin overdose deaths in the last few years, just as prescription opioid overdose deaths are starting to level out. In a recent analysis of retail-filled opioid prescriptions, QuintilesIMS showed that retail prescriptions decreased almost 15 percent in the U.S. from 2013 to 2016.8

For the first time ever, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old,9 and every year the death toll is climbing, increasing the burden on states. Policymakers are being called upon to offer solutions.

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