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Data Analysis Suggests Opioid Epidemic Much Worse Than Thought

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatalities related to the opioid epidemic reached an all-time high in 2015, killing more than 33,000 in the United States. That's more than the number of people killed by either guns or car accidents. New analysis reveals, however, that these statistics might be severely underreporting the extent of this public health crisis.

Dr. Christopher Ruhm of the University of Virginia noticed that specific drugs causing an overdose are often not listed on death certificates, which would lead to undercounting and underreporting of accurate cause of death data. After reviewing CDC data from 2014 alone, it was discovered that a drug was not identified on death certificates in fatal overdoses in nearly 20 percent of cases. Despite evidence of national underreporting, the study found that some states were better than others when it. For example, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire have rigorous reporting requirements and listed a drug on death certificates 99 percent of the time. In other states, however, the reporting rates are as low as 50 percent. Overall, Dr. Ruhm suggests that national mortality rates (deaths per 100,000 individuals) for opioids were actually 24 percent higher than reported, and rates for heroin 22 percent higher.