Although opioid overdose deaths have measurably increased across the U.S., some states have been more severely affected by particularly high death rates. Additionally, as the national opioid crisis has evolved, some states have been especially hard-hit by the rise in deaths from heroin and synthetic opioids.
This blog post highlights a new SHADAC brief that uses vital statistics data from the CDC WONDER system to analyze differences in state opioid overdose deaths for different types of opioids (i.e., prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic opioids). This state-focused brief is a companion piece to a national brief that provides additional background on the problem of opioid overdoses.
Although national data on opioid overdose deaths show a shift in the past few years—from deaths related mainly to prescription painkillers earlier in the epidemic to mostly heroin and synthetic opioids in the past few years—state date illustrate a more-nuanced pattern.
Since 2000, most states have experienced statistically significant increases in death rates from prescription painkillers (Figure 1). And the states with relatively high rates of deaths from prescription painkillers represent geographically diverse areas of the country, including the 2016 highest rates in West Virginia, Utah, and Maine.
However, the shift in deaths to heroin and synthetic opioids has been more regionally concentrated in a contiguous block of states, primarily east of the Mississippi River and from Maine and Wisconsin in the north to Kentucky and Virginia in the south (Figure 2). The states with the highest 2016 rates of heroin deaths were the District of Columbia, West Virginia and Ohio. The states with the highest 2016 synthetic opioid death rates were New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Massachusetts.
The State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a part of the Health Policy and Management Division of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.