Topic Overview:

Better understanding of the dynamics of the current overdose epidemic in the United States may aid in the development of more effective prevention and control strategies. Jalal and colleagues analyzed National Vital Statistics System records of 599,255 deaths from 1979 through 2016 where accidental drug poisoning was identified as the main cause of death. By examining all available data on accidental poisoning deaths back to 1979, when the ninth revision of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) came into use, and showing that the overall 38-year curve is remarkably exponential, Jalal and colleagues provide evidence that the current wave of opioid overdose deaths (due to prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) may just be the latest manifestation of a more fundamental longer-term process. The almost 40-year smooth, exponential curve of total annual accidental drug poisoning deaths in the United States is a composite of multiple distinctive sub-epidemics of different drugs—like prescription opioids, heroin, methadone, synthetic opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine—each with its own specific demographic and geographic characteristics.