Drug Overdose Mortality Rates Rising in the United States

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Drug overdose mortality rates are on the rise in several countries, particularly in the United States.

Drug overdose mortality rates are on the rise in several countries, particularly the United States, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Investigators examined data from the World Health Organization Mortality Database for the 2001 to 2015 period on the annual number of deaths due to drug overdose by country, year, age, and sex. Overdose deaths were defined using the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, codes for mental and behavioral disorders due to substance use (F11 to F16 and F19), and poisoning by external causes (accidental poisoning [X40 to X44], internal self-poisoning [X60 to X64 and X85], and poisoning of undetermined intent [Y10 to Y14]). Data analyzed was for individuals age 20 to 64 in an effort to focus on premature mortality. The data of individuals from 13 countries were analyzed: Australia, Chile, Denmark, England, Wales, Estonia, Finland, German, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United States.

In 2015, the United States had the highest drug overdose mortality rates in both men and women (35 deaths per 100,000 men and 20 per 100,000 women) and Mexico had the lowest (1 death per 100,000 men and 0.2 per 100,000 women). Between 2001 and 2015, Estonia had the highest drug overdose mortality rates, with an average annual percentage of change (AAPC) of 6.9% in men and 7.9% in women. The United States had the second-highest mortality rates, with an AAPC of 4.3% in men and 5.3% in women. 

Increases in mortality rates were also seen in Australia and Norway. Norway had the greatest reduction in drug overdose mortality, with an AAPC of −3.2% for men and −2.0% for women. Reduced rates were also observed in men and women in Mexico, Spanish men, and Danish women. Mortality rates for drug overdose were highest in men age 35 to 49 and in women age 50 to 64.

“Detailed evaluations of the policies of countries with declining rates may help identify approaches that can be applied elsewhere to prevent further premature deaths,” the researchers wrote.

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Chen Y, Thomas D, Freedman ND. Premature mortality from drug overdoses: a comparative analysis of 13 organisation for economic co-operation and development member countries with high-quality death certificate data, 2001 to 2015. [published online November 13, 2018]. Ann Intern Med. doi:10.7326/M18-2415