Aug 7, 2019 - Health

Drug overdose deaths spike in urban America

Reproduced from NCHS; Chart: Axios Visuals

For years, death rates from drug overdoses surged in rural America. But now, overdose death rates are rising faster in cities, according to a newly released data analysis from the Centers for Disease Control.

What's happening: The opioid crisis has devastated many rural areas while heroin deaths are climbing in urban centers.

  • Deaths involving fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that's been a major factor in the drug epidemic, are higher in urban areas. Heroin and cocaine are also bigger problems in cities.
  • Overdoses linked to natural and semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and morphine are higher in rural counties. So are deaths linked to psychostimulants like methamphetamine.

The big picture: Urban and rural America have taken turns in leading the overdose toll, but the rates have never been very far apart. So while cities took the lead since 2016, the real takeaway from the data is that the drug epidemic is everywhere.

  • One level deeper: A recent analysis of CDC data by Axios' Sam Baker shows that the drug epidemic is hitting hardest in the suburbs of big cities.

Silver lining: The CDC report covers data through 2017, so it does not include provisional 2018 data indicating that drug overdose deaths may be on the decline for the first time in 30 years.

  • Yes, but: While overdoses from prescription opioids are falling, deaths from fentanyl, cocaine and meth all continued to increase last year.

Go deeper: Critical opioid funding is running out

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