70,000 opioid deaths in the U.S. may have gone uncounted since 1999

The death toll of the US opioid crisis has been seriously lowballed, suggests a new study published in Public Health Reports. It found that many states have failed to identify fatal drug overdoses specifically caused by opioid use over the past two decades. Since 1999, there might have been as many as 70,000 opioid-related deaths across the country that were never counted as such.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studied death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) from each state between 1999 to 2015. They separated overdose deaths into one of three categories: Overdose deaths tied to opioid use, deaths tied to non-opioid use, and deaths with no specified drug at blame. Then they tracked these deaths over time.

Overdose deaths overall steadily increased during the study period, from nearly 17,000 deaths in 1999 to over 50,000 in 2015 (2016, not included in the study, saw yet another record high of 63,000 deaths). But the increase of opioid-related deaths—401 percent since 1999—far outstripped that of non-opioid deaths (a 150 percent rise) and non-specific overdose deaths (220 percent).

Ed Cara/Gizmodo