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America's Opioid Epidemic is Way Worse Than We Realized (2017)

Opioid mortality rates may be 24% higher than the official stats.

It’s hard to solve a problem if you don’t understand its magnitude. And thanks to faulty data collection, America seems to have been greatly underestimating the severity of its opioid epidemic. According to a new study that corrected the rates, opioid mortality rates in 2014 were 24% higher than the official statistics. Heroin mortality rates were 22% higher.

Why might the official data be so horribly off? Drug overdoses that kill people often involve more than one type of drug. However, when entering information on the person’s death certificate, hospitals don’t necessarily record all—or even any—of the drugs taken. In fact, around one fifth to one quarter of drug overdose fatalities—depending on the year—indicate “unspecified drugs” as the cause of death. The share of these that involve opioids or heroin aren’t making it into the official mortality rate tally.

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