US opioid epidemic could be worse than perceived, claims study
Addiction What’s Trending Aug 09, 2017
US opioid epidemic could be worse than perceived, claims study

The current figures of heroin and opioid overdose deaths in the United States are severely underreported, says a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia. The opioid epidemic gripping the country could be worse than what people believed it to be.

The researchers analyzed thousands of death certificates between 2008 and 2014 and found that mortality rates were higher than previously reported. That is 24 percent higher for opioids and 22 percent higher for heroin.

“Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona. Increases in heroin death rates were understated in most states, and by large amounts in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Alabama,” the study said.

Accurate reporting of overdose deaths crucial

The study came up with the findings soon after the presidential opioid commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, declared “a national emergency” to manage the opioid epidemic.

Study researcher Dr. Christopher Ruhm told the NBC News that his message to the members of the presidential commission would be to get the most accurate data as the first crucial step. This would help in developing policies to combat the fatal drug epidemic.

“This is particularly important when we have scarce funds to allocate and so would want to target them at the hardest hit areas,” he told NBC News. He said that the lack of reliable and accurate information on drugs that cause fatal overdoses is a major reason why U.S. was unable to thwart the epidemic. “This occurs when no specific drug is identified on the death certificates,” he noted in the study.

Ruhm and his colleagues scoured reams of death certificates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 19.5 percent of the fatal overdose cases in 2014, no specific drug was identified, whereas the figure in 2008 was even higher at 25.4 percent.

After an analysis, Ruhm could establish the number of deaths attributed to heroin and opioids alike. The findings revealed that the national opioid overdoses spiked in 2014 from 9 per 100,000 people to 11.2, and fatal heroin overdoses climbed to 4 per 100,000 from 3.3.

Anomalies in earlier report

According to the findings, there were enough mismatches in the figures denoted and the actual happenings. For example, the Keystone state was at 32nd position for opioids deaths, with 8.5 per 100,000, according to the CDC. However, Ruhm and his fellow researchers found that the state should be in a much higher spot at seven for that year. The actual rate of opioid deaths in the state was 17.8 per 100,000. When it came to fatal heroin overdose deaths, the state jumped from 20th to fourth.

Dealing with opioid overdoses

It takes a combined effort from all stakeholders to counter the opioid epidemic. Such gaps in reporting could lead to nowhere. On an individual level, people addicted to any substance should seek immediate treatment for a long-term recovery.

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