New Drug Overdose Death Data from the CDC


Drug Overdose Deaths



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    • Vital Statistics
      • Mortality
        • Drug Overdose

Our intern Jake Riley recently finished his time working with us. While he was here, he processed our new data on drug overdose deaths, and wrote this post on the issue and the data. Thanks, Jake!

The issue of drug abuse has been a rapidly growing topic of public interest. During the presidential primaries, it became a major story when the candidates were in New Hampshire. The issue is so prevalent there that New Hampshire Public Radio now has a page dedicated to stories on the heroin epidemic. The New York Times has a good overview.

According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths have cost the lives of nearly half a million people over the past four years. These deaths represent just a fraction of the total number people who use drugs, and the impact goes even further. Given the emergence of the issue, we wanted to make drug overdose death rates available on PolicyMap. Using specially released data from the CDC, we now have twelve years of county-level estimates of the drug overdose death rate.

Drug overdose deaths are classified as instances where drugs were the primary cause of unintentional deaths, including suicides, homicide, and deaths of undetermined intent. The CDC reported that the number of drug overdose deaths for 2014 was higher than any previous year on record. Sixty percent of these deaths involve drugs in the opioid family (e.g. heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers) and the rates surpass the peak death rate of H.I.V. from the 1990s.

Although the CDC makes drug overdose data available through their Underlying Cause of Death database, the small population size of many counties produces suppressed or unreliable data for most of the country, particularly in rural areas where this epidemic is of growing concern. In order to provide nationwide estimates at the county level, the CDC used existing drug overdose data, and supplemented it with demographic and geographic modeling. A more detailed explanation of their methodology can be found here.

This dataset complements other indicators on PolicyMap, namely, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities and health indicators from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). We hope you’ll be able to use this information in your work.

This data can be found in the Health menu, Vital Statistics section, Mortality submenu, under “Drug Overdose.”