America’s opioid epidemic could be even more deadly than previously thought, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Prior to these findings, official data reported that 91 people per day die because of prescription painkillers, however, the CDC warns this number is likely far greater, with most deaths listed as a different cause.
According to CDC field officer Victoria Hall, people who die from infectious diseases such as pneumonia may have contracted their illness due to opioid drug abuse. Because their death certificates only list the infection as the cause of death, the opioid-related death is not counted.
“It does seem like it is almost an iceberg of an [opioid] epidemic,” Hall said. “We already know that it’s bad, and while my research can’t speak to what percent we are underestimating, we know we are missing some cases.”
Hall and her colleagues found that over half of drug-related unexplained deaths in Minnesota from 2006 through 2015 listed pneumonia as the cause of death, and 22 of the 59 unexplained drug-related deaths involved lethal levels of opioids. Minnesota is the only state that still operates an “unexplained death” surveillance system, which the CDC attempted to implement nationwide in 1995 but eventually abandoned.