Changes in Opioid-Related Drug Overdose Deaths in US



Media advisory: To contact corresponding author Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., email Gregory Flynn at The full study is linked to this news release.

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Bottom Line: Researchers analyzed changes in the proportion of drug overdose deaths involving opioids that were certified as suicide, unintentional or of undetermined intent in this observational study. Using 2000-2017 mortality data, researchers report 47,506 total opioid deaths (excluding homicides) in 2017: 90.6% were unintentional deaths, 4% were suicides and 5.4% were of undetermined intent. Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of opioid-related deaths that were suicides declined from 9% to 4%; unintentional opioid-related deaths increased from 73.8% to 90.6%; and deaths of undetermined intent decreased from 17.2% to 5.4%. There were significant increases in opioid-related suicide rates for males and females, all racial/ethnic groups, and all age groups except those between the ages of 35 and 44. Between 2000 and 2017, the rate of opioid-related deaths increased from 2.2 to 13.2 per 100,000 people for unintentional deaths and from 0.27 to 0.58 per 100,000 for suicides with no significant change in the rate for deaths of undetermined intent. Limitations of the study include fewer drug overdose deaths that didn’t have information on the specific drug because of increased toxicological screening and that may have contributed to the increase in opioid-related deaths over time, as well as uncertainty about determinations made by coroners or medical examiners about the manner of death.

Authors: Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, and coauthors.



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