Causes of Death

Information and data on mortality and drug use, including death rates and overdoses. Contains data on the number of deaths in the United States from various causes, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, with particular attention to legal and illegal opioids. Also contains information on mortality, drugs, drug overdose, and on the use of Naloxone to reverse opiate overdoses. Sources include official mortality reports from Centers for Disease Control and peer-reviewed journal articles.

The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States

"Over the 15-year study period, 335,123 opioid-related deaths in the United States met our inclusion criteria, with an increase of 345% from 9489 in 2001 (33.3 deaths per million population) to 42,245 in 2016 (130.7 deaths per million population). By 2016, men accounted for 67.5% of all opioid-related deaths (n = 28,496), and the median (interquartile range) age at death was 40 (30-52) years.

Changes in Synthetic Opioid Involvement in Overdose Deaths in the US and Involvement of Other Drugs in Combination

"Among the 42 249 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, 19,413 involved synthetic opioids, 17,087 involved prescription opioids, and 15,469 involved heroin. Synthetic opioid involvement in these deaths increased significantly from 3007 (14.3% of opioid-related deaths) in 2010 to 19,413 (45.9%) in 2016 (P for trend <.01). Significant increases in synthetic opioid involvement in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, heroin, and all other illicit or psychotherapeutic drugs were found from 2010 through 2016 (Table).

Alcohol Overdose Deaths in the US

"On average, 6 people died every day from alcohol poisoning in the US from 2010 to 2012. Alcohol poisoning is caused by drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. Very high levels of alcohol in the body can shutdown critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature, resulting in death. Alcohol poisoning deaths affect people of all ages but are most common among middle-aged adults and men."

Deaths in 2016 in the US Attributed to Drug Overdose

"• In 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States.

"• The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) was 21% higher than the rate in 2015 (16.3).

"• Among persons aged 15 and over, adults aged 25–34, 35–44, and 45–54 had the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2016 at around 35 per 100,000.

"• West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1), New Hampshire (39.0), the District of Columbia (38.8), and Pennsylvania (37.9) had the highest observed age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

Estimated Economic Impact of Illegal Opioid Use and Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths

The White House Council of Economic Advisers [CEA] released its analysis of the economic costs of illegal opioid use, related overdoses, and overdose mortality in November 2017. It reported a dramatically higher estimate than previous analyses, largely due to a change in methodology. Previous analyses had used a person's estimated lifetime earnings to place a dollar value on that person's life.

Growth of Fentanyl Related Deaths in the US

"Preliminary estimates of U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 in 2016 and were partially driven by a fivefold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016 (1,2). Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase (3,4). In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths (5,6) and the illicit opioid drug supply (7).

Provisional Counts of Overdose Deaths Can Be Misleading

The federal Centers for Disease Control reported on December 21, 2017, that there had been a total of 63,600 deaths attributed to drug overdose in the US in 2016. Based on data available for analysis on Oct. 1, 2017, the CDC's provisional count of drug overdose deaths in the US for the 12-month period ending in December 2016 had been 71,135. The difference is attributed to data quality: provisional counts are by definition incomplete, which means they can be misleading.

Factors That May Skew Estimates of Overdose Deaths Attributed to Specific Drugs, Particularly Opioids

"First, factors related to death investigation might affect rate estimates involving specific drugs. At autopsy, the substances tested for, and circumstances under which tests are performed to determine which drugs are present, might vary by jurisdiction and over time. Second, the percentage of deaths with specific drugs identified on the death certificate varies by jurisdiction and over time. Nationally, 19% (in 2014) and 17% (in 2015) of drug overdose death certificates did not include the specific types of drugs involved.

Deaths from Drug Overdose in the United States

"During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. There has been progress in preventing methadone deaths, and death rates declined by 9.1%. However, rates of deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (likely driven primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl) (2,3), increased sharply overall and across many states."