Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016

December 12, 2018

Questions for Lead Author Holly Hedegaard, M.D., M.S.P.H., Health Statistician, and author of “Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016.”

Q: Is there a specific finding in this report that surprised you?

HH: During the six years of the study, the relative ranking of the drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths changed. In 2011, the drug most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths was oxycodone, in 2012-2015 was heroin and in 2016 was fentanyl. In 2016, fentanyl was involved in nearly 30% of the drug overdose deaths in the United States.

The drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths also varied by the intent of the death. In 2016, the drugs most frequently involved in unintentional (accidental) drug overdose deaths were fentanyl, heroin and cocaine, while the drugs most frequently mentioned in suicides by drug overdose were oxycodone, diphenhydramine, hydrocodone, and alprazolam.


Q: How is the data in this report different from the recently released drug overdose data brief and provisional drug overdose numbers produced by NCHS?

HH: The drug overdose data brief and the provisional drug overdose numbers produced by NCHS involve analysis of death certificate data coded using the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10). One limitation of this classification system is that, with a few exceptions, ICD–10 codes reflect broad categories of drugs rather than unique specific drugs.

In the National Vital Statistics Report, NCHS uses data from the literal text on death certificates to identify the specific drugs involved in the death. Using this method, we can look at the number of deaths involving specific drugs, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or fentanyl, for example, rather than be limited to the broader categories found with ICD-10 coded data, such as natural and semi-synthetic opioids or synthetic opioids other than methadone.


Q: What did your report find on the percentage of drug overdose deaths mentioning at least one specific drug or substance?

HH: Using the literal text to identify the specific drugs involved is dependent on whether or not the specific drugs are reported on the death certificate. The specificity of reporting has improved in recent years. In 2011, the specific drugs or drug classes involved were reported for 78% of drug overdose deaths; in 2016, the reporting increased to nearly 88% of drug overdose deaths.


Q: Do you have data that goes further back than 2011?

HH:  A previous report looked at the drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths in 2010-2014. That report is available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_10.pdf


Q: Do you have data on drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths that goes up to 2017?  If not, when do you expect that will be available?

NCHS does not currently have information on the drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths in 2017. NCHS is currently preparing the data files for analysis. The results for 2017 will be available in 2019.


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

HH: The patterns in the specific drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths can change from year to year. Complete and accurate reporting in the literal text on death certificates of the specific drugs involved provides critical information needed for understanding and preventing drug overdose deaths.

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Mortality in the United States, 2017

November 29, 2018

Questions and Answers from the authors of the recently released 2017 mortality data.  The data can be found in the following reports, “Mortality in the United States, 2017, ” “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2017, ” and “Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2017.”

Q: Why did life expectancy decline in 2017?

A: Mortality rates increased for 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., including a 5.9% increase in the flu/pneumonia death rate, a 4.2% increase in the accidental/unintentional injury death rate, and 3.7% in the suicide rate. Many of the accidental/unintentional deaths were from drug overdoses, which continued to increase in 2017.


Q: Isn’t this the third straight year that life expectancy declined?

A: Estimated life expectancy at birth in 2017 was 0.3 years lower than in 2014 and 0.1 years lower than in 2016. The 2016 life expectancy estimate was revised to 78.7 years, up from an estimated 78.6 years, which was reported a year ago. This means that the 2016 life expectancy estimate is the same as the 2015 estimate, which also was revised to 78.7 years, down from an estimated 78.8 years, originally reported two years ago. As a routine matter, for the highest degree of accuracy, NCHS blends Medicare data for people ages 66 and over with our vital statistics data to estimate life expectancy. However, the two data sets are released on different schedules. When Medicare data for a year aren’t available at the time we release our final mortality statistics, we use the most recent Medicare data available at the time. We later revise life expectancy estimates when updated Medicare data become available.


Q: How many deaths in 2017 were attributed to opioids?

A: In 2017, 47,600 drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of any type of opioid, including heroin and illicit opioids, representing over two-thirds of all overdose deaths (68%).


Q: Why is the 70,237 number of overdose deaths smaller than what CDC has previously reported for 2017?

A: The 70,237 number is a final, official number of overdose deaths among U.S. residents for 2017 whereas the previously reported (and slightly higher) numbers were provisional estimates. In August of 2017, CDC began calculating monthly provisional data on counts of drug overdose deaths as a rapid response to this public health crisis, in order to provide a more accurate, closer to “real-time” look at what is happening both nationally and at the state level. These monthly totals are provisional counts, and they include all deaths occurring in the U.S. – which include deaths among non-residents (i.e., visitors here on business or leisure, students from abroad, etc). These counts also do not include deaths that are still under investigation. As a result, the monthly numbers are provisional or very preliminary, and the final 2017 number of 70,237 deaths is an official number that only include deaths among U.S. residents and account for any previously unresolved deaths that were under investigation.


Q: Does this mean that the 70,237 total does not include deaths to undocumented immigrants here in the U.S.?

A: We don’t get immigration status off the death certificates, so we wouldn’t know how many of the deaths were to undocumented immigrants.


Q: In comparing the 2017 numbers with 2016 and past years, is the crisis of drug overdose deaths growing or about the same?

A: From 2016 to 2017, the number of drug overdose deaths increased from 63,632 deaths to 70,237, a 10% increase, which is a smaller increase compared to the 21% increase from 2015 to 2016, when the number of drug overdose deaths increased from 52,404 deaths to 63,632 deaths. Over a longer period of time, from 1999 through 2017, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased on average by 10% per year from 1999 to 2006, by 3% per year from 2006 to 2014, and by 16% per year from 2014 to 2017. So the trend is continuing, although the increase in 2017 was not as large as in previous years.


Q: Are there any other trends of significance when looking at the types of drugs attributed to overdose deaths?

A: The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which include drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol, increased 45% in one year, from 6.2 per 100,000 in 2016 to 9.0 per 100,000 in 2017. In 2017, 40%(?) of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of a synthetic opioid other than methadone.


Q: Has fentanyl overtaken heroin as the major cause of overdose death?

A: The data brief on drug overdose deaths does not specifically address fentanyl. However the rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased 45% 2016 and 2017 whereas the overdose death rate from heroin did not change (4.9 deaths per 100,000).


Q: There is a lot of stark news in these three reports. Are there any positives to report?

A: The cancer mortality rate declined between 2016 and 2017, and although estimated life expectancy declined in 2017, life expectancy for people at age 65 actually increased. Also, regarding drug overdose deaths, the rate of increase in drug overdose deaths slowed between 2016 and 2017, although the increases that occurred were still very significant.


QuickStats: Age-Adjusted Death Rates for Drug Overdose by Race/Ethnicity — National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2015–2016

April 2, 2018

During 2015–2016, the age-adjusted death rates from drug overdose for the total population increased from 16.3 per 100,000 standard population to 19.8 (21.5%).

The rate increased from 21.1 to 25.3 (19.9%) for non-Hispanic whites, from 12.2 to 17.1 (40.2%) for non-Hispanic blacks, and from 7.7 to 9.5 (23.4%) for Hispanics.

Source: National Vital Statistics System, Underlying cause of death data, 1999–2016. https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html.

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6712a9.htm


Q and As on “Mortality in the United States, 2016” and “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2016”

December 21, 2017

Questions for Bob Anderson, Chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch, on the following reports, “Mortality in the United States, 2016” and “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2016.”

Q: How significant is it that life expectancy¹ in the U.S. has declined two years in a row?

A:  This is the first time life expectancy for the U.S. as a whole has declined two years in a row since 1962 and 1963, years in which there were severe flu outbreaks – and an increase in deaths from flu and pneumonia – in the U.S.


Q:  Since this is very rare, do we have any idea why this decline in life expectancy has happened again?

A:  We first have to look at the leading causes of death and see what is happening there.  For 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., mortality actually declined between 2015 and 2016.  But mortality from 3 causes of deaths increased.  Suicide rates increased 1.5% in 2016, and mortality from Alzheimer’s disease increased 3.1%.  However, mortality from accidents/unintentional injuries increased at a rate over three times that the increase of Alzheimer’s disease mortality – a 9.7% increase between 2015 and 2016.   And many of these accidental/unintentional deaths were from drug overdoses.


Q: How many deaths in 2016 were attributed to opioids?

A: In 2016, 42,249 drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of any type of opioid, including heroin and illicit opioids.


Q: Why is the 63,632 number of overdose deaths smaller than what CDC has previously reported for 2016?

A: The 63,632 number is a final, official number of overdose deaths among U.S. residents for 2016 whereas the previously reported (and slightly higher) numbers were provisional estimates.

BACKGROUND:  In August of this year, CDC began calculating monthly provisional data on counts of drug overdose deaths as a rapid response to this public health crisis, in order to provide a more accurate, closer to “real-time” look at what is happening both nationally and at the state level.  These monthly totals are provisional counts, and they include all deaths occurring in the U.S. – which include deaths among non-residents (i.e., visitors here on business or leisure, students from abroad, etc).  These counts also do not include deaths that are still under investigation.  As a result, the monthly numbers are provisional or very preliminary, and the final 2016 number of 63,632 deaths is an official number that only include deaths among U.S. residents and account for any previously unresolved deaths that were under investigation.


Q: In comparing the 2016 numbers with 2015 and past years, is the crisis of drug overdose deaths growing or about the same?

A: From 2015 to 2016, the number of drug overdose deaths increased from 52,404 deaths to 63,632 deaths, a 21% increase.  Over a longer period of time, from 1999 through 2016, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased on average by 10% per year from 1999 to 2006, by 3% per year from 2006 to 2014, and by 18% per year from 2014 to 2016.  So this is a continuing, disturbing upward trend.


Q: Are there any other trends of significance when looking at the types of drugs attributed to overdose deaths?

A: The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which include drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol, doubled in one year, from 3.1 per 100,000 in 2015 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2016. In 2016, 30% of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of a synthetic opioid other than methadone.


Q: Has fentanyl overtaken heroin as a major cause of overdose death?

A: The data brief on drug overdose deaths does not specifically address fentanyl. However the rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, doubled between 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone was 6.2 per 100,000 and the rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin was 4.9 per 100,000.


Q: There is a lot of stark news in these two reports.  Are there any positives to report?

A: As mentioned, mortality from 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. declined in 2016; in fact, the overall mortality rate for the U.S. actually dropped despite the decline in life expectancy.  As for drug overdose deaths, the rate of increase in drug overdose deaths involving natural and semi-synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, is slowing. From 1999 to 2009, the rate increased on average by 13% per year but from 2009 to 2016, the rate increased by 3% per year.  And from 2006 to 2016, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving methadone decreased from 1.8 per 100,000 to 1.0 per 100,000.

The 2015 life expectancy estimate was revised to 78.7 years, down from 78.8 years, which was reported a year ago.

¹BACKGROUND: As a routine matter, for the highest degree of accuracy we blend Medicare data for people ages 66 and over with our vital statistics data to get a final, official estimate of life expectancy.  However, the two data sets are released on different schedules and occasionally, as with the 2015 estimates, the Medicare data for that year isn’t available at the time we release our final mortality statistics.


Drug Overdose Deaths Among Adolescents Aged 15-19 in the United States: 1999-2015

August 16, 2017

Questions for Sally Curtin, Statistician and author of “Drug Overdose Deaths Among Adolescents Aged 15-19 in the United States: 1999-2015

Q:  Do trends in overdose deaths among teens reflect the trends of older adults in the U.S.?

SC: There are some similarities, but also differences.  Both teens and older adults experienced the sharp increases from 1999 through the mid-2000s.  But unlike older adults, whose rates continued to increase, teenagers actually had a decline in drug overdose death rates through 2014, before an upturn in 2015.  All of this decline was for males as the rates for females stabilized from 2004-2013 before increasing again.


 

Q: Do we know why trends for teens dropped during the first several years of the millennium?  And why they increased sharply in 2015?

SC: There are many public health initiatives to combat the rising drug overdose death rates.  While we do not know the exact reason for the decline, we know the specific drugs that were involved—opioids, cocaine, and benzodiazepines.  For the opioids, it was the frequently prescribed drugs—methadone and natural and semisynthetic (oxycodone, morphine) that had declines for teens since the mid 2000s.  Other opioids such as heroin and synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) fluctuated but generally increased over the 1999-2915 study period.  The continued rise in drug overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids from 2014 to 2015 contributed to the uptick between those years.


 

Q: What are the differences in overdose deaths by gender and race?

SC: We did not examine race in this report because the numbers were too small for some groups.  By gender, the drug overdose death rate for males was higher for females for every year of the 1999-2015 period and was 70% higher in 2015.  While males had a greater increase in drug overdose death rates than females between 1999 and the mid-2000s, they also declined by about a third between 2007 and 2014 before increasing again.  The rate in 2015 was still lower than the 2007 peak.  Females had an increase, albeit smaller than for males, and then their rate stabilized between 2004-2013 before increasing again.


 

Q:  What type of drugs are killing these teens?

SC: As for the population at large, the majority of drug overdose deaths involve opioids.  When we examined the specific type of opioid involved, heroin is the leading drug involved and rose fairly steadily throughout the study period.  Synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) were lower than other opioid drugs through the early years of the period, but then doubled between 2014 and 2015.  This large increase for synthetic opioids has also been observed for the population at large.

We did not look at combinations of drugs.  Often, there is more than one drug involved so the categories we show are not mutually exclusive.


Stat of the Day – May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017


Drug Poisoning Mortality: United States, 1999-2015

April 19, 2017

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has released a new data visualization storyboard that presents drug poisoning deaths from 1999 to 2015 at the national, state, and county levels.

The first two dashboards depict U.S. and state trends in age-adjusted death rates for drug poisoning from 1999 to 2015 by selected demographic characteristics, and the third dashboard presents a series of heat maps of model-based county estimates for drug poisoning mortality from 1999 to 2015.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data-visualization/drug-poisoning-mortality/