Federal Data Underestimate Opioid Deaths, Study Finds

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Deaths from heroin and other opioids are far higher than federal statistics indicate in New Jersey and even more in Pennsylvania, found a new analysis that examined information that was missing from records, reports Philly.com. Nearly 50 percent of Pennsylvania’s drug overdose deaths in federal data carried no indication of the types of drugs involved, as did 30 percent of those in New Jersey. The study examined 2008 and 2014 drug mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which receives data from counties via the states. When information on drug type was missing, it applied a formula based on those that were complete, weighted by various demographic information. Reporting by most states improved over that time period but still varied widely, with information missing from 0.4 percent of cases in Rhode Island vs. 52.4 percent in Alabama in 2014.

Nationally, nearly 20 percent of reports were incomplete. That translated to 24 percent more deaths than reported from all opioids and 22 percent more from heroin. Opioids include heroin, most prescription painkillers, and fentanyl, which can come in both pharmaceutical and illicit forms. “The most striking example was Pennsylvania,” study author Christopher Ruhm, a health economist at the University of Virginia, wrote yesterday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Ruhm said he was concerned that federal policy and possibly funding might be based on incomplete information.

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