A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics found drug overdose deaths have been rapidly increasing throughout the country. The report claims estimates for the first nine months of 2016 were higher than the same period in 2015.

In the first nine months of 2015 52,404 drug overdose deaths were reported in the United States, and out of those, over 33,000 were attributed to opioid drugs such as legal prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like street fentanyl and heroin.

Image credit: Medscape
Image credit: Medscape

The numbers reflect the ongoing drug epidemic that is affecting the nation. In fact, measures taken to fight off the crisis have not been successful yet. Last week, President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis issued a report calling on the Head of State to declare the drug overdose crisis a national emergency.

Drug overdose death numbers spiked alarmingly in 2016

The data was compiled and published by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, the third quarter of 2016 saw all drug overdose deaths increase to 19.9 cases per 100,000 people in the country, compared to the 16.7 in the same quarter the previous year.

The first two-quarters last year also saw the rate of overdose deaths spike from 16.3 deaths per 100,000 people in the first quarter of 2015 to 18.9 in the same quarter of 2016. Furthermore, the second quarter also increased from 16.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015 to 19.3 in last year’s second quarter.

The CDC said that, however, those first two-quarters were not significantly different from the same period in 2015.

As the drug epidemic continues to get worse, citizens and legislators are urging for stronger measures. The commission on the opioid epidemic, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, called on the President last week to declare it a national emergency.

“Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it,” said the commission in an interim report, according to CNN. “The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency.”

Study: Drug overdose deaths are seriously underreported in some states

A new research claims that numbers of drug overdose deaths in the country are severely underreported, pointing that the crisis may be worse than people realize. Dr. Christopher Ruhm from the University of Virginia conducted the study. He and his team revisited thousands of death certificates from 2008 to 2014 and found that mortality rates were 24 percent higher for opioids and 22 percent higher for heroin than had been previously reported.

Overdose deaths involving opioids as of 2015. Image Credit: CDC
Overdose deaths involving opioids as of 2015. Image Credit: CDC

“Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, and Arizona,” wrote Ruhm in the study, which was published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Increases in heroin death rates were understated in most states, and by large amounts in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Alabama.”

Ruhm told NBC News that one of the reasons U.S. officials have been unable to mitigate the drug epidemic is the lack of reliable data on the drugs causing fatal overdoses. In his study, he explained that occurs when no particular drug is identified on the death certificates.

He came across thousands of death certificates in which a drug was not properly identified. In fact, he found that in 2014, a particular drug was not identified in 19.5 percent of drug overdose deaths and in 2008 that percentage was even higher, at 25.4 percent.

Ruhm noted that states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire specified the culprit drug on death certificates 99 percent of the time, but states like Pennsylvania, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama only reported that about half of the time. Based on his findings, he estimated how opioids could cause many of those deaths and how many could be heroin.

Ruhm stressed need to get most accurate information to handle drug epidemic

His results claim the national rate of fatal opioid overdoses spiked in 2014 from 9 for every 100,000 people to 11.2, while the rate of fatal heroin overdoses jumped from 3.3 to 4 per every 100,000 people.

J.J Abbott, press secretary for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, told NBC News the numbers are alarming and “underscore the need to continue expanding treatment, education, awareness, and resources for law enforcement and health professionals.” However, Susan Shanaman of the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association said there were many reasons why a coroner may not list all the drugs on a death certificate.

She explained the average family has to get about 20 copies of a death certificate of their loved one to perform legal transactions (closing accounts, transfer loan accounts, transfer titles, among some) and that not every family member wants the public to know what kind of drugs were found in the deceased.

Ruhm urged the need for health officials to know the gravity and the extent of the drug epidemic and even sent a message to the same commission that is asking President Trump to declare the crisis a national emergency.

“My message to members of a Presidential commission would be that getting the most accurate statistics possible is a crucial first step towards developing policies aimed at stemming the fatal drug epidemic,” he told NBC News. “This is particularly important when we have scarce funds to allocate and so would want to target them at the hardest hit areas.”

Source: NBC News