Mortality for Unintentional Drug Poisonings Up Since 1979

Trajectory of overall mortality rate smooth; no exponential trajectories in rates for individual drugs.
Trajectory of overall mortality rate smooth; no exponential trajectories in rates for individual drugs.

HealthDay News — Since at least 1979, there has been an exponential increase in the overall mortality rate for unintentional drug poisonings, according to a research article published online September 21 in Science.

Hawre Jalal, MD, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh Public Health, and colleagues analyzed records of 599,255 deaths from 1979 through 2016 from the National Vital Statistics System where unintentional drug poisoning was identified as the main cause of death. The time course of the overall number of deaths, and contributions of individual drugs to the overall curve were assessed. 

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The researchers observed an exponential increase in the overall mortality rate for unintentional drug poisonings in the United States from 1979 through 2016. For at least 38 years, this exponentially increasing mortality rate tracked along a smooth trajectory; in contrast, the trajectories of mortality rates from individual drugs were not tracked along exponential trajectories. In 2005 to 2006, cocaine was a leading cause, which was successively overtaken by prescription opioids, then heroin, then synthetic opioids. Over time, there was considerable variability in the demographic patterns of deaths due to each drug. Most deaths until 2010 were in 40- to 50-year-olds, from cocaine and increasingly from prescription drugs.

"There is no regular or predictable pattern to the overdose rates for any of these drugs," Jalal said in a statement. "Nonetheless, when we plot the annual sum of all drug overdoses, we get a remarkably smooth, inexorable exponential curve."

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