Publication date: 
March 13, 2018

SEATTLE – Deaths in the United States from drug use disorders between 1980 and 2014 increased overall by more than 600%, but in some counties the increases exceeded 5,000%, according to a new scientific study.

However, deaths generally decreased nationwide for alcohol use, suicide, and homicide.

The study, which covers every US county, was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. It was published today in JAMA.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first at the county level to consider drug use disorders and distinguish between intentional and unintentional overdoses,” said Dr. Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, the study’s lead author and faculty member at IHME.

The study does not distinguish between illegal and prescription drugs, such as those in the class of opioids, including pain relievers available legally by prescription. It analyzed data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics, the US Census Bureau, and other sources.

Nearly 550,000 deaths were attributed to drug use over the study’s 35 years. Nationally, the age-adjusted death rate increased 238% between 1980 and 2000, and 112% between 2000 and 2014. Counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and eastern Oklahoma had increases exceeding 5,000%.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Between 1980 and 2014, there were more than a quarter million deaths in the US due to alcohol use; western counties generally had higher death rates than other parts of the nation, with especially high rates in parts of Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Alaska.
  • Nearly 1.3 million suicides were recorded from 1980 to 2014, with especially high rates in Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Wyoming, and one county in Maryland.
  • More than three quarters of a million deaths by homicide occurred in the US between 1980 and 2014. Age-adjusted rates decreased by about 35% between 1980 and 2000, and by nearly 16% between 2000 and 2014. The largest decreases were in counties in Virginia, Florida, Texas, California, and New York. However, homicides increased in counties in several Midwestern and Atlantic states.

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About the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to improve population health.