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The opioid crisis is even worse than we thought, study shows

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

The University of Virginia released a new study that caught President Trump’s eye on Tuesday. The researchers found that opioid and heroin deaths have been both severely underreported and misreported. Researchers evaluated thousands of death certificates between the years of 2008-2014 and found that opioid deaths were 24 percent higher and heroin fatalities were 22 percent higher than previously reported.

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention release a report on drug overdose death data. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy uses these numbers as well as the President’s appointed opioid commissions team. Due to the rate at which people are dying from overdoses, the CDC is a year behind, and will release their 2016 findings in December 2017. The UVA study, however, found that the number of deaths due to drug overdoses in the CDC’s report are off by almost 25 percent in some states.

UVA says the cause for the inaccurate numbers is due to states underreporting the particular drug that was abused resulting in death. States often have no choice because the drug isn’t specified on the death certificate. Nearly 25 percent of fatalities caused by drug overdoses do not list the abused drug.

Christopher Rohm, who conducted the research, found that hospitals and coroners do not accurately record the drug that the person overdosed on. This makes it hard for researchers to get a good grasp on the scope of the issue. Rohm looked at the overdose fatalities by state and used death certificates where drug involvement was recorded, combined with demographic and socioeconomic factors, to determine the probable percentages of these deaths involving heroin or opioids.

The research found that most opioid deaths are understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, and Arizona. Due to lack of specification, in 2014, Pennsylvania’s opioid and heroin deaths were underestimated by more than half.

Rohm also found that some states have overstated both opioid use and heroin overdoses in some cases. Overall, the study argued that there is a huge issue with how these deaths are reported. The study suggests more states should have medical examiners specify the drugs involved with each death and list all of them on the death certificates.

If states do decide to crack down on their approach, it will help experts get a clearer picture of how bad this crisis is. However, it will also be hard for them to rely on the current data for comparison.

On Tuesday, the president set up a meeting with top administration officials to discuss the opioid crisis and review the preliminary report that was released last week by Trump’s Opioid Crisis Commission. In that interim report, the commissioners urged the president to declare a state of emergency.

While the UVA study found that deaths from drug overdoses in America are much worse than previously reported by the CDC, overdoses are still killing over 142 people a day.

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