Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Fentanyl, 2011–2016

Questions for Lead Author Merianne Spencer, M.P.H., Health Statistician, of “Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Fentanyl, 2011-2016.”

Q: Why did you decide to do a report specifically on drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl?

MS: Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is of interest to public health officials because of its increased involvement in drug overdose deaths and contributing role in the opioid epidemic. Understanding trends in drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl by demographic and regional characteristics can provide insights to better target interventions for populations at risk and to inform agencies working to combat this public health problem.


Q: Do you have any data that is more recent than 2016? 

MS: Mortality data for deaths occurring in 2017 are currently available for research use.  However, these data were not available at the time of the analysis for this study, and the text analyses required for preparing this report are time intensive.


Q: How did drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl vary by age, sex and race?

MS: The rates for drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl varied by age with the largest rates among adults aged 25-34 and 35-44. Exponential increases occurred in all age groups, with the greatest increases per year among adults aged 35-44, 25-34 and 15-24.

The rates for males and females were similar in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  In 2013, the rates for males and females began to diverge such that by 2016, the rate for males (8.6 per 100,000) was roughly 2.8 times the rate for females (3.1).

For race/ethnicity, non-Hispanic whites had higher rates than non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics for the entire study period.  However, the annual percentage changes were greater among non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.


Q: Was there a specific finding in your report that surprised you?

MS: I was surprised to see how high the average annual percentage change in rates was for teenagers and young adults aged 15-24. While the death rate for this age group was not as high as the rates for persons aged 25-34 and 35-44, the average annual percentage increase in the rate was among the greatest, increasing an average of almost 94% each year from 2011 through 2016.


Q: What is the take home message for this report?

MS: The rise in drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl was noticeable in certain subpopulations and regions.  Overall, death rates, which were stable in 2011 and 2012, significantly increased from 2013 through 2016.

Death rates for males and females were similar in 2011 and 2012, but then diverged, with rates for males increasing faster than the rate for females starting in 2013. Non-Hispanic whites had the highest death rates; however, the rates for non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics increased at a greater pace than those for non-Hispanic whites.  All age groups had increasing rates, but the greatest increases were among those aged 15-24, 25-34 and 35-44.  There were also regional differences, with the highest rates and greatest increase in rates occurring in the East Coast and Upper Midwest regions.

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