The Opioid Epidemic: What is the Real Situation?

The U.S. government has been facing much pressure to handle the opioid epidemic in the country. The public wants the local authorities to tackle the problem head on. However, a recent article published in a medical journal called the "American Journal for Preventive Medicine", PhD Christopher Ruhm of University of Virginia maintains that a major hang-up could result when such a cleanup operation is implemented. Even if all the resources are employed it would take a lot of efforts since they size of the opioid problem has been underestimated so far.  

The reason for that is that a large portion of the deaths caused by drug overdose does not mention the specific drug which resulted in the mortality. 25% of the death certificates in 2008 and 20% of those in 2014 were due to a drug overdose. This discrepancy varies greatly from one state to another. The problem worsens in each locality.

To understand the complete picture and how bad the problem is Dr. Ruhm organized the data and made corrections using the death certificate reports. He used the information given in reports where at least one type of drug was mentioned as that involved in the death. This was used to guess drug involvement in cases where the category of drug is not specified. This model was applied to each case and several variables were used predict the probability and possibility of opioid use.

The results with corrected data showed that the number of deaths related to opioid use increased by 24% all over the United States. This effect was incredibly prominent in certain places such as Rhode Island where the information filled for 99% of the cases did not result in much of a difference. 
While in some cases such as Pennsylvania correcting the data resulted in an extreme change. The number of deaths listed due to drug abuse almost doubled resulting in an increase in state rankings as well.

The official number shows the state was the 32nd highest number of deaths related to opioid use. After correcting the data, the state shot up to the seventh highest rate in the country.

A map was used to depict the overdose figures before and after the correction by Dr. Ruhm. The disparity is very much visible all over the United States. The corrected data brought out a much more pronounced geographic pattern. Dr. Ruhm knew the reported pattern was not a correct representation.

The new rates have shown that the Mountain States and the Rust Belt are much concentrated in the number of deaths.

There is much work to be done in order to help reduce the number of drug related deaths. Measures must be taken by the government at the state level to ensure young people are not given access to drugs. Also, more awareness should be created amongst the general public over the detrimental effects opioids have on the health.

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