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Are Opioid Overdose Death Rates Actually Much Worse Than We Think?

Are Opioid Overdose Death Rates Actually Much Worse Than We Think?

Author: Justin Mckibben

It hasn’t even been one week since I wrote about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting opioid overdoses increased by 30% in only one year, and already a new story from The Washington Post suggests that these numbers are actually being highly undercounted! So in reality, the increase could be skewed by the fact that the real rates of overdose deaths are tragically misrepresented.

This new study reveals that the government has actually been undercounting opioid overdose deaths by anywhere between 20% and 35%!

So how is this happening? How much worse is the overdose outbreak?

A Closer Look at Coroner Reports

The reason the study says this underreporting is happening is due to how the current numbers are actually determined. In order to estimate national trends in opioid overdose and opioid-related death, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amasses data from over 3,000 coroner’s offices across the US.

However, the issue is that coroners function independently, so their available resources vary from case to case. The same goes for their reporting practices.

Christopher Ruhm, a professor at the University of Virginia, took a closer look at tracking trends and found that a lot of coroners do not specify the drug when documenting a fatal overdose. Ruhma states that from 1999-2015, of all fatal overdoses 23.1% did not have a drug specified on the death certificate.

The CDC cannot control local coroners, so it is the states and counties responsibility to improve their overdose reporting practices. If we want a more accurate reading of how opioids are harming a community, there has to be efficient documentation.

Unfortunately, the political incentives are not very supportive of accurate reporting. Officials may be concerned that by spending money on better overdose recording, they will have paid for the chance to look like their opioid problem is actually getting worse. The incentive just isn’t there from a political stance. However, that isn’t a good enough reason to botch the records. Communities still deserve to have a comprehensive idea of the issues they are facing.

Tracking Overdose Death Trends

The inference of coroners not including the drug in the report is that there are a lot more overdoses that do not get included in the official figures released at the federal level. There could be thousands of more deaths from opioids that go unaccounted for. To take a shot at tracking trends, Ruhm studied the records of coroners who did record specific drugs for overdose deaths. Based on this tracking, he was able to attribute a “corrected count” of opioid overdoses. In his report, Ruhm states:

“Corrected rates were obtained by using information from death certificate reports where at least one drug category was specified to impute involvement for cases where none was specified.”

There are many elements to how Ruhm came up with her corrections, and I encourage everyone to read the full analysis, which is published by the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA). The report makes some pretty intense claims about what overdose deaths opioids should account for. For example in 1999 the CDC figures show:

Yet, Ruhm’s corrected count shows 1999 saw:

  • 10,232 overall opioid deaths
  • 3,421 synthetic opioid deaths

In 2015, the CDC figures say:

  • 33,091 overall opioid deaths
  • 19,884 synthetic opioid deaths

But Ruhms count pushes that up to:

  • 39,999 overall opioid deaths
  • 23,857 synthetic opioid deaths

Finally, when we look at the 2016 CDC figure, it said 42,249 opioid overdose deaths nationwide. But the corrected count figure puts 2016 at 49,562 opioid overdose deaths nationwide

What we can take away from Ruhm’s research is simply that the severity of the opioid crisis is being underestimated. From 1999-2015, Ruhm’s corrected counts for overdose deaths were 21% to 35% higher for all opioids. With corrected counts involving heroin and synthetic opioids were 20% to 30% higher.

So when we look at these stats, even if we leave some room for calculation errors, it is still a troubling thought. Since 2009, the leading cause of injury-related death in America has been drug overdoses. For years now, opioids have been public enemy number one concerning drug policy. Everything from prescription painkillers to synthetics being shipped halfway across the world has contributed to this crisis. If all we know about the true devastation of this epidemic is merely our best guess that still doesn’t take it all in, now is truly the time to urge officials and community leaders to take significant steps toward real, lifesaving solutions.

One of the most important resources that we need to take advantage of is providing safe and effective treatment to those who are struggling. Palm Partners Recovery Center has offered innovative and holistic treatment options for over two decades. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

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What Were the Drug and Alcohol Death Rates in Your State?

What Were the Drug and Alcohol Death Rates in Your State?

Author: Justin Mckibben

A reality that is undeniable in this world is that somewhere on the planet, someone passes away every day. It is completely possible statistically that while you are reading this, someone is taking their last breaths. It is part of the process; the circle of life. Nobody lives forever. Yet, one tragic truth we have today is that so many are dying because of something as insidious as addiction. Right now, somewhere someone is dying from a drug overdose.

In all reality, several people just like you and I will die of a drug overdose, or a related illness or incident, today. As death rates due to opioid overdose death escalate higher than ever before, we find that drugs and alcohol are the most lethal threat facing Americans.

Last year we did an article providing overdose death rates for each state. So with that in mind, we took the time to provide some perspective by giving you the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, as far as an entire year’s worth of statistics for drug and alcohol induced deaths.

What do you think is your states statistic? Where does your state fall on the scale of highest to lowest?

The following information is in regards to 2015, and the population figures for year 2015 are bridged-race estimates of the July 1 resident population, from the Vintage 2015 postcensal series released by NCHS on June 28, 2016.


  • Drug deaths- 5,025
  • Alcohol deaths- 5,150
  • Total- 10,175


  • Drug deaths- 3,377
  • Alcohol deaths- 2,489
  • Total- 5,866


  • Drug deaths- 2,732
  • Alcohol deaths- 2,073
  • Total- 4,805

New York

  • Drug deaths- 3,009
  • Alcohol deaths- 1,479
  • Total- 4,488


  • Drug deaths- 3,418
  • Alcohol deaths- 1,027
  • Total- 4,445


  • Drug deaths- 3,376
  • Alcohol deaths- 879
  • Total- 4,255


  • Drug deaths- 2,316
  • Alcohol deaths- 985
  • Total- 3,301


  • Drug deaths- 1,872
  • Alcohol deaths- 946
  • Total- 2,818


  • Drug deaths- 1,351
  • Alcohol deaths- 1,277
  • Total- 2,628

North Carolina

  • Drug deaths- 1,636
  • Alcohol deaths- 915
  • Total- 2,551


  • Drug deaths- 1,851
  • Alcohol deaths- 633
  • Total- 2,484


  • Drug deaths- 1,189
  • Alcohol deaths- 1,100
  • Total- 2,289


  • Drug deaths- 1,546
  • Alcohol deaths- 637
  • Total- 2,183


  • Drug deaths- 1,370
  • Alcohol deaths- 726
  • Total- 2,096

New Jersey

  • Drug deaths- 1,506
  • Alcohol deaths- 527
  • Total- 2,033


  • Drug deaths- 1,310
  • Alcohol deaths- 689
  • Total- 1,999


  • Drug deaths- 1,331
  • Alcohol deaths- 466
  • Total- 1,798


  • Drug deaths- 893
  • Alcohol deaths- 857
  • Total- 1,750


  • Drug deaths- 1,070
  • Alcohol deaths- 655
  • Total- 1,725


  • Drug deaths- 1,320
  • Alcohol deaths- 301
  • Total- 1,621


  • Drug deaths- 1,098
  • Alcohol deaths- 512
  • Total- 1,610


  • Drug deaths- 894
  • Alcohol deaths- 638
  • Total- 1,532


  • Drug deaths- 609
  • Alcohol deaths- 896
  • Total- 1,505


  • Drug deaths- 901
  • Alcohol deaths- 388
  • Total- 1,289

South Carolina

  • Drug deaths- 793
  • Alcohol deaths- 495
  • Total- 1,288


  • Drug deaths- 751
  • Alcohol deaths- 530
  • Total- 1,281


  • Drug deaths- 653
  • Alcohol deaths- 599
  • Total- 1,252

New Mexico

  • Drug deaths- 516
  • Alcohol deaths- 656
  • Total- 1,172


  • Drug deaths- 827
  • Alcohol deaths- 341
  • Total- 1,168


  • Drug deaths- 810
  • Alcohol deaths- 316
  • Total- 1,126


  • Drug deaths- 629
  • Alcohol deaths- 433
  • Total- 1,062

West Virginia

  • Drug deaths- 750
  • Alcohol deaths-193
  • Total- 943


  • Drug deaths- 667
  • Alcohol deaths- 266
  • Total- 933


  • Drug deaths- 332
  • Alcohol deaths- 344
  • Total- 676


  • Drug deaths- 425
  • Alcohol deaths- 242
  • Total- 667


  • Drug deaths- 349
  • Alcohol deaths- 278
  • Total- 627

New Hampshire

  • Drug deaths- 433
  • Alcohol deaths- 173
  • Total- 606


  • Drug deaths- 369
  • Alcohol deaths- 175
  • Total- 544


  • Drug deaths- 278
  • Alcohol deaths- 194
  • Total- 472

Rhode Island

  • Drug deaths- 318
  • Alcohol deaths- 146
  • Total- 464


  • Drug deaths- 224
  • Alcohol deaths- 240
  • Total- 464


  • Drug deaths- 139
  • Alcohol deaths- 199
  • Total- 338


  • Drug deaths- 152
  • Alcohol deaths- 194
  • Total- 346


  • Drug deaths- 127
  • Alcohol deaths- 161
  • Total- 288


  • Drug deaths- 208
  • Alcohol deaths- 80
  • Total- 288


  • Drug deaths- 175
  • Alcohol deaths- 95
  • Total- 270


  • Drug deaths- 99
  • Alcohol deaths- 152
  • Total- 251

South Dakota

  • Drug deaths- 72
  • Alcohol deaths- 152
  • Total- 224

District of Columbia

  • Drug deaths- 130
  • Alcohol deaths- 80
  • Total- 210


  • Drug deaths- 111
  • Alcohol deaths- 96
  • Total- 207

North Dakota

  • Drug deaths- 65
  • Alcohol deaths- 96
  • Total- 161

The total drug related deaths in America- 55,403

Total alcohol related deaths in America- 33,171

Then the total combined (Drug/Alcohol) deaths in America- 88,574

Analyzing the Data of Deaths

Again, these are the CDC’s statistics from 2015; the most recent comprehensive data they can provide. The year 2016 saw some of the most damaging spikes of overdose rates in some cities. Some reports show 2016 to have the highest rates of drug addiction in the history of America. So if we look at the numbers for 2015, it is truly heartbreaking that in all likelihood well over the 88,574 people who died in 2015 lost their lives in 2016.

Some states have seen a huge jump in drug related death. My home-state of Ohio saw 3,778 in 2014, putting them at 3rd highest rate of drug/alcohol-related deaths. That grew to 4,445 in 2015; an increase of 667 people. California held onto the 1st spot on the top highest with 9,562 in 2014, which shot up to 10,175 in 2015; an increase of 613 people.

Oklahoma actually saw a decline in drug-related deaths,  bringing their total drug/alcohol-related deaths down from 1,348 in 2014 to 1,281 in 2015. But they did see an increase is alcohol-related deaths. Mississippi also saw a slight dip from 548 total to 544.

But while some were more intense shifts than others, besides Oklahoma and Mississippi, drug/alcohol-related deaths increased across the board.


What can we take from this? Well, quite simply, that we need to be aware of the true threat that substance abuse poses to our future. If we can expect based on headlines over the year that 2016 was much worse, we need to ask where we are heading. What is being done to change our direction?

We can also conclude that substance abuse an addiction is not limited to any geographic or demographic. It is a very real epidemic. For more detailed information you can visit the CDC’s site and pull up a variety of statistics.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is stopping so many people from living out their lives and giving to the world. But true recovery is possible. We have the power to change these statistics. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

    CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

15 Dead in 24 Hours from Pure Heroin

15 Dead in 24 Hours from Pure Heroin

Author: Justin Mckibben

As if you haven’t heard about this before, and if you haven’t I’d hate to be the one to show you the writing on the wall, the heroin and opiate epidemic in America has claimed an insurmountable number of lives. Towards the end of 2015 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the entire nation had reached a devastating point in the drug addiction issue and with the overdose death outbreak in America, stating that 47,000 people died from drug overdose– 28,647 were opiate related deaths.

The state of New Jersey is no stranger to the inevitable pain and destruction caused by heroin. As a well-populated and thriving suburban area some of the communities of New Jersey have experienced frequent spikes in heroin related deaths, and in some an analysis of the state medical examiner data showed that heroin has been named in more than 5,267 deaths in New Jersey since 2004- half of which took place since 2011! But with the events of this week, that number may get bigger before anything gets better.

Bigger Body Counts

Bringing with it a wave of devastation, a new form of heroin has hit the streets of Camden, New Jersey and in just 24 hours killed 15 people! Heroin in its purest form has hit suburban New Jersey hard and now police are struggling to fight back. Emergency responders and law enforcement are troubled about the potential of more deaths, and the community is in shock.

Camden Metro Police Chief Scott Thompson was reached for comment in regards to this sudden string of tragic deaths, and in his statement to members of the press Thompson stated:

“Right now we know that there is something out there that’s putting people in near death situations,”

These 15 overdoses occurred in several surrounding towns since Tuesday, March 22 and of the 15 cases 14 of the victims were young individuals. Thompson described the situation and the victims as in their younger 20’s and named the some of the impacted areas as:

  • Washington Township
  • Cherry Hill
  • Haddonfield

The Chief emphasized to the public that this is a drug that knows no social or economic barriers, and that heroin does not discriminate against who it hooks, or who it kills.

Stronger Heroin on NJ Streets

According to authorities directly involved in the investigation these bags of potent and potentially lethal heroin doses are marked in specifically labeled bags. Chief Thompson further explained,

“The bags are branded. That’s part of the marketing scheme of the drug dealer. If you were to walk into the community of drug users and start to talk about bags, you’re talking about locations.”

What some would hope is that this connection would help law enforcement follow the trail back to the supplier, and local police are currently stepping up patrols. Authorities have even put Cooper University Hospital on alert in case of additional incidences.

With the escalating intensity of heroin related overdoses and deaths, the state is trying to take aggressive action towards tracking down the source of this pure heroin product that has been flooding the Camden County area, while keeping first responders on stand-by and expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

15 dead in 24 hours is a staggering and horrifying measurement of mortalities in any state under any circumstance.

Think about that. 1 day… 15 people gone, 14 under the age of 30… that is the grim reality, and it seems to get worse every time we write about it.

Heroin continues to destroy lives and desolate families and homes to an alarming and disastrous degree, while politicians and law enforcement clamor to find a method of effectively fighting back and curbing the calamity that has resulted from this poison clogging the streets. One can only hope that beyond putting a stop to this pure heroin from taking more lives that more heroin abusers and addicts are getting the help they need before it is too late.

A story like this just shows how much we need to share that there is a way out. There are thousands of people who have recovered and there are thousands still who may die without the chance. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Should Selling Prescription Pills Be Considered Murder?

Should Selling Prescription Pills Be Considered Murder?

Author: Justin Mckibben

A while back I posed the question- should heroin overdoses be counted as homicides, and how should the people who sell heroin to those who over dose and die be prosecuted? Some people already follow the belief dealers should be treated as killers, so should selling prescription pills be considered murder?

The People VS the Pills

It is nothing new that prescription pills, especially opiates, are directly connected to the escalating issues with drug abuse, the heroin epidemic, and the overdose death rates in America. Law enforcement noticed a spike in illegal abuse of prescription drugs and started hunting down “pill mills” and patients who shopped for doctors to stock-pile dangerous prescription pills for both sale and illicit consumption.

Some law enforcement officials have already started a more aggressive crusade against drug dealers, such as Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless who operated in an area which had 16.2 overdoses for every 100,000 people in 2013. Capeless has been proud to say that every overdose death is fully investigated with the intent to charge someone for the death, and he even has gotten a few convictions.

Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts aren’t the only area where this idea has sparked action. Other states have pursued charges against dealers following overdose deaths of their customers, including:

  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Iowa

The argument about charging dealers with deaths has even been made more prominent with celebrity cases such as the drug overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman where his dealer, 57-year-old Robert Vineberg was arrested and put on trial. That is just one example, and with prescription pills being so closely related to overdose deaths it only makes sense we ask this question.

The Case of Ball and Beasley

On March 3rd, 2015, Brittany Taylor Ball allegedly sold Amanda Beasley of Athens some of her legally prescribed methadone pills. The following day, according to court documents, Amanda Beasley died after overdosing on the prescription pills sold to her. Beasley was married and a mother to a little girl of her own.

This week a grand jury charged Ball with the second degree murder of Beasley. McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy spoke out in regards to the case, stating:

“This is a huge problem and it goes on all the time, the exchange of prescription pain pills, whether they’re being sold or traded or just given out, all of that is illegal and all of that is dangerous.”

Methadone is a prescribed drug to treat heroin addiction, but methadone is still an opiate and still incredibly dangerous. Plenty of people get prescribed methadone to treat heroin addiction, but eventually abuse it or sell it to others illegally. Sheriff Guy went on to say,

“In Tennessee, drug over doses regarding prescription pain medication in 2014 lead the state in adult deaths even more so than gun shot wounds and car crashes. So it’s a huge problem state wide. And we really need to change our attitude about why and what we do with our prescription pain medications.”

Guy insists that in any case where there is a drug sold to someone that causes a death, the dealer will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Prescription drug abuse is still drug abuse, and if it causes a death then many law enforcement officials are more than ready to prosecute.

So now I pose the question to you again- should selling prescription drugs be considered murder?

Some would answer “YES” without hesitation, but others would also argue that since many people who deal drugs are often addicts and suffering themselves in some capacity it is without compassion to persecute someone who sells their prescription pills out of some form of desperation. I guess the context does matter; should an addict be convicted of murder because they were selling their own prescription pills just to support their habit? At what point should one addict be held responsible for the death of another addict who makes their own decision to use?

Truth be told this conversation is not so cut and dry. If a someone knows what the drug is and has been abusing actively, have they not made their own decision as an adult to consume something they know could kill them? Is the overdose a murder, or an unintended suicide?

How far should we be willing to push against prescription pills and drug dealing?

The opioid epidemic is affecting Americans in every part of the country, and prescription pills are a huge part of that. So in the face of overdose deaths, more than ever people need safe and effective treatment to help them change for lige. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Ohio #2 for Most Overdose Deaths in America

Ohio #2 for Most Overdose Deaths in America

Author: Justin Mckibben

Just yesterday I wrote about how the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had released a report last week proclaiming that our great nation has reached a devastating point in the perpetual conflict against drug abuse, as it showed that drug overdose deaths in America have surpassed the statistics of the country’s history in an astonishing ascension.

47,000 people have lost their lives to some kind of drug overdose, and out of that 28,647 were opiate related overdoses.

When writing this I had to openly reflect on the kind of overwhelming despondency I can’t help but feel. I consider the millions of lives impacted by these deaths, each one like an incredible light being snuffed out and leaving the lives of those they loved a little darker; ripples of remorse that turn to tidal waves of turmoil in the hearts and minds of our world.

Then, last night before bed I found a report that ran a chill down my spine- my home state of Ohio (which I frequently write about when I get a chance) is #2 for states with the most overdose deaths in all of America for 2014!

Heartbreak in Ohio

Yes, Buckeyes… this is breaking my heart. I say that because I ran those streets for a long time myself. I know so many people who desparately abused opiates, who felt just as lost hopeless as me, who lost so much and had their lives fall apart at the seams… So it hits home in every way because I know some of you are still out there.

Ohio now holds the second-highest number of drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2014, a number that the CDC suspects is incessantly climbing.

Heroin and prescription pain relievers took approximately 2,744 lives in Ohio in 2014… much more than a previous estimate which had the state ranked as number 8 in the country. Need a little more perspective than that?

That is 1 death every 3 hours!

Think about that next time you sit down to watch a movie- by the time the end credits role, someone will probably already be dead from heroin or another opiate. Every time you clock out for lunch, imagine what family lost their father or son, mother or daughter to heroin since you clocked in.

These rates placed both Ohio among the 5 states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths as measured per 100,000 residents (previously was listed as number 8). The only state that had a higher amount of opiate overdose deaths on this report was California with 4,521. Yes, this number is devastating and almost 2,000 more than Ohio… but you should also take into account the home of the Scarlet and Grey is a fraction of the size of California!

This is real; it is unnerving and heart wrenching to not only know that the whole country seems to be holding on for dear life in the wake of heroin and prescription opiate abuse, but also the place where I grew up is teetering on this daunting edge of disaster and heroin overdose deaths.

To combat the crushing calamity of these dire heroin overdose death rates several communities are formulating assertive strategies, some are even forming a new opiate task forces to address the addiction epidemic in partnership with community efforts. Resources are being pulled to try and get ahead of this issue, but with numbers like this it is disturbing to predict where things are going.

State of Suffering

The CDC analyzed recent mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System to track trends and characteristics of the crisis, including the types of drugs associated with these cases. In its statement the report concluded:

“Opioids — primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin — are the main driver of overdose deaths,”

This should go without saying at this point, but we need to find real solutions to this problem. The War on Drugs has obviously not worked out as well as they thought, and as more people die every day we need to do more to prevent and treat as many as we can. Heroin overdose death is toppling communities and tearing down families 3 hours at a time in Ohio, not to mention the rest of the country.

Thankfully in July of this year Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich gave approval on a critical piece of public health legislation that radically increased the availability of naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote quickly being sought after all over the nation. Also in March there were a few programs instated pushing for increased education and expanded treatment options in Ohio.

It is with a heavy heart I fill myself with hope that there is a quick change in the way things are heading, not just for my state but for all of us. Far too many amazing and beautiful people suffer in the crippling agony of addiction, and far too many are lost to heroin overdose deaths. My love and prayers to those back home still fighting, and to those strong in their recovery.

Hang on Sloopy… hang on.

America is gradually changing the way addiction is viewed and treated, and more is being done to raise awareness, show support and change the lives of all those effected by drugs and alcohol. Far too many people die every day from addiction, but there is always hope. 1-800-951-6135


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