Published: Sat, January 12, 2019
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Overdose deaths in United States hit record high in 2017

Overdose deaths in United States hit record high in 2017

And a staggering spike in opioid-related deaths is largely driving this trend.

In 1999, about seven out of every 100,000 deaths among U.S. women aged 30 to 64 was caused by a drug overdose, but by 2017 that rate had risen to about 24 women per 100,000 - a 260 percent increase, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Deaths linked to heroin and benzodiazepines, a class of prescription anti-anxiety drugs, also rose sharply, increasing 915 percent and 830 percent, respectively, between 1999 and 2017.

Overdose deaths involving antidepressants, cocaine, and prescription painkillers all increased in this time period.

These troubling trends starkly illustrate the opioid crisis gripping the United States and also punctuate that it is far from a problem just affecting younger Americans.

From 1999 to 2017, drug overdose death rates increased about 200% among women ages 35 to 39 and 45 to 49; 350% among those 30 to 34 and 50 to 54; and almost 500% among those 55 to 64, the researchers found.

The bottom line, the researchers said, is that "efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic among middle-aged women".

In 2017, overdose death rates were highest overall among women ages 50 to 54.

Drug overdose death rates increased for other drugs as well, including cocaine, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. And insurance programs that serve older women, including Medicare, may need to sharpen their focus on older women's needs for more careful prescribing, more focused counseling, and better access to treatment for substance dependence than they have done in the past.


For the study, researchers used a national database based on information from all death certificates filed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The researchers also noted that estimates of the drugs involved in overdose deaths can be affected by how each death was investigated.

Men may be more likely than women to use nearly all types of illicit drugs, but women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder, and women may be more susceptible to craving and relapse - key phases of the addiction cycle, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Both Glatter and Kirane say this starts with increased access to addiction care.

"Specific groups of Americans are exquisitely vulnerable to the catastrophic consequences of the opioid epidemic", Dr. Harshal D. Kirane, director of addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital in NY, told CBS News.

"Moreover, certain mental health issues - such as anxiety and depression - tend to occur at higher rates in women, which create profound obstacles to engagement in care", he said.

"Data indicates that women run a higher risk of drug craving and relapse, which are important stages in the addiction cycle", Glatter said. "Women who are victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk of substance abuse".

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on opioid addiction.

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