Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose Death: Underreported

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opioid use disorderThe American opioid addiction epidemic made headlines last week. Once again, the news is bleak. This public health crisis involves millions of opioid use disorder cases, has taken an astonishing number of lives, and has required significant funding to try to contain the problem.

When it comes to government funding, lawmakers rely on statistics to gauge what’s appropriate. However, if the numbers senators and house representatives have are inaccurate, it leads to funding shortfalls.

It should go without saying that the scope and scale of the opioid addiction epidemic require significant actions. Many steps have been taken to expand access to addiction treatment services and the life-saving drug naloxone. Still, the scourge of prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opiate use continues with few signs that it will let up soon.

Millions of Americans find themselves in the grip of an opioid use disorder currently. More than 100 people die each day from a fatal overdose, and opioids are involved in most cases. Since 2016, The Washington Post has researched the public health crisis involving opioid use and found that more than 400,000 people have died nationwide since 1996.

The staggering number is even more shocking when you consider that a quarter of those deaths occurred in just the past six years alone. What’s more, 400,000 overdose deaths are not wholly accurate, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Rochester.

Undercounting Overdose Deaths Presents Challenges

The research – appearing in the journal Addiction – found that around 100,000 more people died from opioids between 1999 and 2016, and they were not accounted for, The Washington Post reports. Elaine Hill, an economist and senior author of the study, says that her team’s findings are concerning, naturally.

Hill states that undercounting overdose deaths affects the amount of funding that government programs receive, which makes their job more challenging. It’s vitally important to have an accurate picture of both the scope and scale of the opioid addiction epidemic and a relatively precise understanding of the death toll.

The lead author believes that the underreporting may be the result of counties having limited resources which can:

  • Delay Toxicology Reports
  • Limit Drug Testing
  • Prevent the Completion of Autopsies

The research supports such hypotheses; Hill and her team found that underreporting was most prevalent in rural and more impoverished counties, according to the article. The states where underreporting was most prevalent include Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Indiana. The researchers found that white females in the 30 to 60 age range who died of overdose were accounted for least of all.

“We’re hoping that this paper contributes to the reality that we do need to improve reporting methods for target areas that are in the most need,” Hill said. “Just the sheer volume in numbers in our paper shows this is a really large and national issue that we hope attention is brought to.”

Hopefully, Hill’s research will persuade Congress that more funding is necessary for stemming the tide of overdose deaths and expanding access for evidence-based addiction treatment. Increased funding could also help counties hire medical examiners to replace coroners who do not have the experience to determine the cause of death accurately.

Colorado Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Opioid use disorder is a treatable behavioral health disorder; people struggling with the condition can and find recovery. However, professional help is the most effective way to begin the journey of addiction recovery. Detox, followed by residential or intensive outpatient treatment, and concluding with residing in sober living, is a recipe for success.

If you or a loved one is in the throes of an opioid use disorder, then please contact NorthStar Transitions. We specialize in the treatment of prescription opioid and heroin addiction and provide clients with a full continuum of care from detox to sober living. Please call 303.558.6400 to learn more about how we can be of service to you or someone you love.