TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new study from the University of South Florida shows that federal agencies may be under-reporting the number of opioid and heroin-related deaths.
Researchers at USF obtained and analyzed data from fatal overdoses in Florida between 2003 and 2017. The group focused on deaths caused by three drug groups – amphetamines, benzodiazepines and opioids – and three drugs – methadone, cocaine and heroin to compare with the CDC data and data reported by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
Each individual year uncovered a stark difference between the data sets.
Undercounted deaths for opioids and heroin 2003-2017
Hover over the bar to see the exact number.Source: University of South Florida College of Public Health
During the study’s 2003-2017 time frame, the CDC reported that 375,527 deaths across the country were caused by opioids and 106,806 caused by heroin.
But after comparing data, USF’s researchers found the estimated number of under-counted deaths for opioids and heroin over the 14-year period was 125,802, nationally. Florida took responsibility for 39,304 of those.
The study concluded that the numbers of deaths across all overdoses reported in the Florida Medical Examiners Commission were 19 percent to 39 percent higher than the counts in the CDC’s Multiple Cause of Death data, depending on the drug used.
“The CDC data is widely reported in the news and referenced by politicians, which is problematic since those estimates significantly under-count the true scope of the epidemic for specific drugs,” said Dr. Troy Quast, who published the research. “The rate of under-reporting for all overdose deaths in Florida is near the national average, so the problem is not the state.”
In an effort to more accurately report the growing drug epidemic and find ways to combat it, the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance program recently awarded $13 million to help the federal government conduct faster, more comprehensive toxicology reports.
Quast believes the resources to fund and improve upon toxicology research will help with more accurate reporting across the board.
Throughout the last year, growing amounts of data have unveiled Florida’s major role in the national crisis.
8 On Your Side reported last summer that the Tampa Bay area – comprised of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties – all received more opioids per person than the national average. Hernando County, at nearly twice the national average, ranked second in the state for the highest number of pills per person.
In 2018, Florida became one of two dozen states that passed legislation related to prescription of opioids, in an attempt to fight the grip of addiction across the state’s residents.
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