New research suggests that many more people may be dying of overdoses than previous data showed.
Recent study sheds light on this crisis
New research points to a prominent opioid crisis in America. In my world, I have seen two deaths due to overdoses within the past few months. This article by Cody Fenwick for Patch tells how extensive this problem is in Pennsylvania and across our nation.
As the epidemic of opioid abuse and the increase in overdose deaths gather national attention, new research suggests the crisis is worse than we’ve known because of shortcomings in how they’re reported.
Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics from the University of Virginia, published a paper Monday in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Preventive Medicine showing the extent to which some states dramatically underreport the number of opioid-related deaths.
Most national and state-based estimates of the number of these deaths rely on information found in death certificates, but this data is often incomplete and potentially misleading.
So what is the real estimate?
Correcting for the these flaws, Ruhm estimates that the rate for opioid overdose deaths in 2014 nationally is 24 percent higher than what has been reported — increasing the total number of opioid-related deaths in that year from more than 28,000 to more than 35,000. But even this national increase doesn’t tell the whole story.
“It turns out there’s enormous variation across the states” when it comes to reporting causes of deaths, Ruhm told Patch.
In Pennsylvania, for example, Ruhm’s estimates more than doubled the rate of opioid deaths in 2014, from 8.5 per 100,000 initially to 17.8 per 100,000 in the corrected numbers. In New Jersey, the rate of 8.1 opioid deaths per 100,000 people jumped to 11.7 per 100,000 people, according to his methods.
Death certificates say how a person died, but this designation is not always specific. In some states, it’s common for officials to simply list the cause of death as drug-related without specifying which substances were at fault.
“In many case there will be a drug death classification, but there will be no listing of what drugs are involved,”Ruhm explained. This means that many thousands of opioid deaths go uncounted when researchers try to quantify the extent of the crisis.
To adjust for this, Ruhm created a prediction equation based on the profiles of individuals who died from an overdose when the specific substance involved was listed. This allowed him to estimate how many people died of opioid abuse when the cause of the overdose was omitted.
This approach isn’t perfect, Ruhm admits.
We can’t be certain that his estimates will be entirely accurate. But, Ruhm argued, his approach is better than simply ignoring all overdose deaths that don’t list a specific drug, because that will almost certainly understate the size of the opioid crisis.
“Essentially what we’re doing now is ignoring those cases, which is clearly wrong,” he said. “You have to have correct facts to come up with good policy.”
“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does,” said Jeremiah Gardner, manager of media relations at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, an addiction advocacy organization. “That’s what we’re experiencing on the front lines. So, sadly, Professor Ruhm’s estimates are not that startling. We’re seeing every day the grief and frustration that is overwhelming individuals, families and communities across this country.”
He continued: “We are far past the stage of national emergency. It’s a national tragedy now.”
These sad statistics represent family members and friends who have tragically overdosed and died. Their deaths create a wake of emotional and relational destruction.
For those who know their loved ones are taking opioids, please make sure they recognize the dangers and get the help they need. The help they receive may just save their lives.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside
Image Source: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/01/479440834/in-opioid-crisis-it-s-important-to-know-which-drugs-caused-a-death