Drugs Account For 80% Of Poisoning Deaths Nationwide, Which Have Increased 25% In The Last Ten Years

May 04, 1998

A study conducted by researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)--which analyzed data on poisoning injury deaths--revealed that 80% of these deaths are drug-related. "Opiates and cocaine were two of the leading causes of drug-related poisoning deaths," says Lois Fingerhut, the primary author of the study.

Published in the May/June '98 issue of Public Health Reports, the study examines the underlying cause of death for 18,549 poisonings as reported on death certificates in the United States in 1995. Poisoning was ranked as the third leading cause of injury mortality, following deaths from motor vehicle traffic injuries and firearm injuries. It was the leading cause of injury death for people ages 35 to 44 years.

About three-fourths of all poisoning deaths were caused by drugs (77%), and the remaining were caused by gases and vapors (15%) or "other solid and liquid substances," including alcohol (8%). Poisoning death rates were low among children under 15 years old (fewer than 0.5 per 100,000) and peaked in the 35-44 years of age group (15.9 per 100,000). In this peak age group, the death rate from poisoning was higher than the death rates from either motor vehicle or firearm injuries. The age-adjusted rate of drug-related poisoning deaths was 7.2 per 100,000 for males, more than twice that for females (3.0 per 100,000).


Poisoning deaths rates were higher in 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available) than in any previous year since at least 1979. From 1990 to 1995, the age-adjusted rate of death from poisoning increased 25%; all of the increase was associated with drugs.

From 1985 to 1995, poisoning death rates for males ages 35-54 years nearly doubled to 20.4 per 100,000, and the drug-related poisoning death rate for males ages 35-54 years nearly tripled, reaching 16.1 per 100,000. From 1990 to 1995, death rates associated with opiates and cocaine more than doubled among males ages 35-54 years.

Geographic Distribution.

In 1994-1995, age-adjusted poisoning death rates ranged from lows of 3-4 per 100,000 in six states to highs of 10 per 100,000 in New Jersey, 11.4 per 100,000 in Nevada, and 13.7 per 100,000 New Mexico. New Mexico was one of six states with disproportionately high percentages of poisoning deaths attributed to opiates (22% in New Mexico, compared with a national average of 11%). Despite the fact that the poisoning death rate was significantly lower in Georgia than in the United States as a whole, Georgia had a relatively high proportion of poisoning deaths associated with cocaine, 21% compared with 8% for the United States. In addition to New Mexico, 16 states, primarily concentrated in the West and Northeast, had age-adjusted poisoning death rates significantly higher than the U.S. average. The states with the lowest rates were generally the states with lower proportions of poisoning deaths attributed to drugs.

CONTACT: Lois A. Fingerhut, MA, tel. 301-436-7032, ext. 111; fax 301-436-8459; e-mail laf4@cdc.gov. Second author: Christine S. Cox, MA.

Public Health Reports

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