The devastation associated with the opioid epidemic in the United States has been largely underestimated, according to the latest report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal health officials now say there are far more than 91 people dying everyday as a result of a vicious dance with opioids. The CDC’s latest exploration into the subject shows there have been some gross miscalculations with respect to the mortality rates associated with opioid overdose, all of which stems from cases being cataloged under a separate cause of death.
“In early spring, the Minnesota Department of Health was notified of an unexplained death: a middle-aged man who died suddenly at home,” Dr. Victoria Hall, a CDC field researcher, told CNN. Although the autopsy revealed the man had both pneumonia and high levels of opioids in his system, “on the death certificate, it only listed the pneumonia and made no mention of opioids,” she added.
Come to find out, well over half of the opioid-related deaths that have taken place in Minnesota over the past decade were never listed in the state’s official database.
Hall, who presented her findings earlier this week, at the annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference in Atlanta, says the situation is likely due to how data is entered into the surveillance system.
The monitoring method used by the CDC was developed primary to keep tabs on emerging diseases. It allows the government to maintain a relatively solid grip on what is happening all across the nation with respect to the types of infectious diseases that pose a threat to the well being of civil society. For example, this system would be the first to identify the threat of a zombie apocalypse; but because it relies on humans to enter the information, it’s not catching all of the deaths associated with opioids.
In order for Hall to find that there are potentially thousands more opioid-related deaths happening in the United States, she had to roll up her sleeves and sift through the database. What she found was a percentage of the pneumonia deaths also contained evidence of opioid use. Upon further study, she discovered that nearly 60 out of the 1,676 Minnesota residents that have died as a result of complications from pneumonia should have actually been entered into the state’s opioid monitoring system.
In fact, 22 of the 60 actually died from an overdose.
“It’s quite concerning, because it means that the [opioid] epidemic, which is already quite severe, could potentially be even worse,” Hall said. “While my data doesn’t support a percent that we’re underestimating, it puts out the question: Is there something we need to look into further?”
“This is not just a Minnesota problem,” she added.