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Alabama’s Health

Drug-induced deaths increase by 250 percent in just 15 years

By Dale Quinney

There would be great concern if we realized that the entire population of the city of Bay Minette or Greenville or 90 percent of the entire population in Greene County had died.  These are close comparisons to the 8,081 Alabamians that were lost to drug-induced death or mortality during the years 2000-2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug-induced deaths include all deaths for which drugs are the underlying cause, including those attributable to acute poisoning by drugs (drug overdoses) and deaths from medical conditions resulting from chronic drug use (e.g., drug-induced Cushing’s syndrome). A drug includes illicit or street drugs (e.g., heroin and cocaine), as well as legal prescription and over-the-counter drugs; alcohol is not included.

Drug-induced death and drug usage does not seem to be generating the attention in Alabama that is seen in many other states.  This could be because the rate of drug-induced death has increased to where it now exceeds the motor vehicle accident death rate in 37 of all 50 states, but not in Alabama and most other southern states.  However, without serious intervention, this will soon be the situation in Alabama.

Alabama lost 232 residents to drug-induced death in 2000.  By 2015, this had increased to 810, an approximately 250 percent increase.  There were 962 motor vehicle accident deaths involving Alabamians in 2015.

Alabama’s growing drug abuse crisis should be generating greater conversation and concern.  Perhaps a high-profile drug abuse summit, bringing together many different community components and stakeholders, could help increase public awareness of the status of this peril.  Perhaps information could be shared, needs identified, and a strategy identified to intervene in this destructive threat.

There are interesting demographic features involving drug-induced mortality that can help in identifying where intervention may be needed the most.  Several of these are as follows:

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher in north Alabama.  The rate is 17.8 deaths per 100,000 standard population during 2012-2015 for residents of the 37 northern counties in the Appalachian Region.  This compares to a rate of 12.4 in the 30 south Alabama counties that are not in this region.   Walker County has the highest rate in Alabama at 36.4, more than double the state rate of 15.9.  St. Clair County also has a rate nearly double that for the state at 31.4.  Escambia County has the highest rate among all south Alabama counties at 28.4.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among white residents.  Nearly 84 percent of all victims during 2012-2015 were white.  The rate for white Alabamians (19.5) is more than triple the rate of 6.3 for African American Alabamians.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among males.  The rate was 18.8 for males, compared to 13.1 for females.

Drug-induced mortality is significantly higher among those aged 25-54 years.  The rates for those aged 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54 were all considerably higher than those for other age groups.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.