More Drug Overdose Deaths in Rural America Than Urban Counties

Drug overdose deaths are on the rise, and from 1999 to 2009 rural U.S. counties saw a larger jump in these drug-poisoning deaths than their urban counterparts. While the highest death rates were seen in central metropolitan areas during this period, the rate grew by 394% in rural counties compared to a 279% spike for large urban metro areas.

Throughout the United States, the drug-poisoning death rate increased 300% over the past three decades, and is now the leading cause of injury death in the United States. About 90% of poisoning deaths are attributed to illicit or legal drugs, and prescription drugs account for the majority of drug overdose deaths.

All of this and more is presented in a new study that takes a look at drug overdose deaths in the United States — county by county.

The study was undertaken and penned by three National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) researchers in Hyattsville, Maryland. You can find their work, “Trends and Geographic Patterns in Drug-Poisoning Death Rates in the U.S., 1999-2009,” in the December 2013 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. At NCHS, we’ve produced a number of reports on this topic — “Drug Poisoning Deaths in the United States, 1980-2008,” and “Increase in Fatal Poisonings Involving Opioid Analgesics in the United States, 1999-2006,” — but these earlier reports focused on state death rates. The new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine is the first to examine drug poisoning mortality on the county level. It’s this type of county mapping that can enhance efforts to bring preventive programs to geographic areas that could benefit most.

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