The on-going opioid epidemic that has resulted in a high death toll in America was reportedly underestimated. Researchers have revealed that at least 70,000 deaths caused by an opioid overdose were not properly identified.
The Epidemic Is Much Worse Than Feared
A new study showed that since 1999, in the United States, coroners have omitted thousands of drug-related deaths from death certificates. The authors of the study note that this new finding not only changes the record of the opioid epidemic in America, it also means that areas in the country that are in need may have been overlooked for resources.
The researchers continued that there is still much to learn about how severe the epidemic in America is, despite the recent attention garnered. Deaths that were linked to opioid overdoses made headlines when it reached 64,000 in 2016.
The study, which was conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, found that a large number of deaths were undocumented. It also discovered the inconsistencies for the past 17 years. The team examined the data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, which assigns specific codes and classifies diseases. Drug-related deaths were designated as "T-Codes' and the scientist found death certificates labeled as "T50.9" which did not indicate what drug was involved.
The team of researchers examined the increase in drug-related deaths from three categories, opioid, non-opioid, and deaths by unspecified drugs.
The researchers note that the states with highest deaths that were "unknown" include Pennsylvania, Alabama, Indiana, Louisana, and Mississippi. Within those states, over 35 percent of deaths due to drugs were under the unspecified category. Pennsylvania had over 10,000 deaths that were unspecified within the 17-year gap.
The researchers followed the number of deaths, which increased during the study period, but in regards to opioid-overdoses, it outstripped the non-opioid related deaths and unspecified deaths.
The researchers determined that there were about 70,000 deaths caused by an opioid overdose that were not documented.
The researchers of the study claim that coroners who were not medically trained or lacked researchers may be the reason for many opioid-related deaths not being documented properly.
"But coroners are less likely to be physicians and do not necessarily have medical training useful for completing drug information for death certificates based on toxicology reports. And states with a decentralized or hybrid system are likely to have less standardization, leading to greater variation in reporting accuracy," Jeanine Buchanich, lead author of the study, stated.