Deaths blamed on drug use soar 600 percent from 1980-2014

Deaths due to drug overdoses in the United States have risen dramatically in the past several decades, hitting West Virginia and Kentucky especially hard, even as mortality rates blamed on other causes from substance abuse or intentional injury have dropped.

Deaths blamed on drug-use disorders soared 618.3 percent from 1980 to 2014, according to a study examining county-level mortality data published this week in the medical journal JAMA.

Although drug-related deaths increased in every county in the United States over the period of study, the Appalachia area near the border of West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as Ohio, Indiana and Oklahoma, saw the highest concentration of such deaths.

In some cases, drug-related deaths increased by more than 5,000 percent over the period of study. CNN noted that the report detailed a spike of 8,369.7 percent in Boone County, West Virginia, which experienced 57.1 deaths per 100,000 people over the study period.

Meanwhile, deaths from other causes dropped overall. Rates of deadly alcohol use disorders decreased by 8.1 percent over the length of the study period, driven by an 11 percent decline between 1980 and 2000 alone. Suicide rates overall decreased 6 percent.

Deaths due to interpersonal violence – defined as domestic violence or abuse – dropped 44.9 percent.

The disconnect between the trends of various so-called "deaths of despair" – drug use, alcohol and suicide – undercuts an argument made by some to discount the role of addiction in the opioid crisis.

"If this was a 'deaths of despair' phenomenon, you would likely see alcohol deaths and suicides and all these factors rising together in the same areas," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, who was not involved with the study, told CNN. "But this paper debunks that. There are geographic differences, and the rates of deaths didn't all go up together.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report