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Drug Overdose Mortality Update: Rates, Ages, and Geography, 1999-2022 (provisional)
Portland, Oregon shows how not to do it - decriminalizing deadly drugs means more deaths
NY Times: Fighting for Anthony: The Struggle to Save Portland, Oregon/The city has long grappled with street homelessness and a shortage of housing. Now fentanyl has turned a perennial problem into a deadly crisis and a challenge to the city’s progressive identity", 29 July 2023 by Michael Corkery
In 2022, Portland experienced a spate of homicides and other violence involving homeless victims that rattled many in the community: a 42-year-old homeless woman shot in the face by two teenagers who were hunting rats with a pellet gun; a 26-year-old homeless woman stabbed in the chest outside her tent; another homeless woman, 31, fatally shot at close range by a stranger.
The search for answers points in many directions: to city and county officials who allowed tents on the streets because the government had little to offer in the way of housing, to Oregon voters who backed decriminalizing hard drugs and to the unrest that rocked Portland in 2020 and left raw scars.
But what has turbocharged the city’s troubles in recent years is fentanyl, a deadly synthetic drug, which has transformed long-standing problems into a profound test of the Portland ethos.
In November 2020, amid the national reckoning over policing and criminal justice, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure that lowered the penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs like meth and opioids.
When police in Oregon see someone using these drugs, they can hand out a $100 ticket and a card listing a hotline for addiction treatment.
Known as Measure 110, the law was meant to focus the government’s efforts on treating addiction, not on arresting users.
Let’s look at the results.
In 2020, the year voters approved the measure, 69 people in Multnomah County fatally overdosed from synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, according to the county health department.
Last year, such overdoses killed 209 people in the county, and the drug is smoked openly on Portland’s downtown streets.
Fifty times more powerful than heroin, fentanyl sets off a high that “human brains have never seen before,” said Dr. Andy Mendenhall, who runs Central City Concern, one of Portland’s largest nonprofit providers of mental health and homeless services.
Let’s look at drug overdose death statistics through 2022 for the U.S.
Let’s see how much “good intentions” have done for people.
Rate Graphs for Drug OD Deaths
First, here are the high-level rate results. It doesn’t matter if I do a crude rate or age-adjusted rate here - it looks essentially the same.
If that doesn’t look drastic enough for you, here you go.
That is a huge increase from 2019 to 2021 in drug overdose deaths.
Demographic Profiles for Drug OD Deaths: 2019 - 2022
This is just a snapshot, and the 2022 numbers are still provisional.
Still, this is hideous, especially for Native Americans, both males and females.
I do have the trajectories for the different demographic profiles. Before the pandemic, black males were not higher than white males for drug ODs deaths. Indeed, white males and Native American males had higher death rates — until the pandemic.
As an aside, drug overdoses are not the only cause of death for which Native Americans have far worse outcomes than other racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., both male and female.
As a Catholic, I have an intention for the cause of Nicholas Black Elk, who is currently recognized as a Servant of God.
Seeing these horrid mortality statistics make me double down — but of course, one can see all of the groups are seeing worse outcomes. But those which started out worse are seeing substantially worse outcomes.
Age Profiles for Drug OD Deaths
Let’s check out what the drug OD death rates have been by age groups.
I’ll break this out by the highest death rates:
Maybe you weren’t expecting the young middle-aged people to be the peak of drug OD deaths, but they are.
These are rates, not numbers of deaths, so this has nothing to do with the age structure of the population. I will note the rate has been increasing for all of these age groups, and all of these age groups are prime “working age”.
The deaths due to drug ODs really jumped up in 2020 and 2021 for these groups.
Now, let’s look at other age groups [little kids do not die from drug ODs in any significant amounts.]
This vertical axis starts much lower than the prior graph, but isn’t it interesting that seniors of age 65-74 years old have higher drug OD death rates than teenagers?
That’s not too surprising if you think about it. Seniors have more money than teenagers, and seniors are less likely to be able to survive adverse health events from anything, which isn’t drug-specific.
But I will point out there was a huge relative jump up in drug OD deaths for teenagers in 2020.
Yeah. I will have to do a deeper dive on relative increases in mortality — because there have been huge movements in mortality for teens and young adults in the pandemic, and this has horrible effects.
Geographic Impact of Drug OD Deaths: 2019-2022
Finally, for the geographic footprint, I am going to look only at 2019-2022.
I have found many interesting patterns, but I will make it simple: Oregon had the worst increase in drug OD deaths from 2019 to 2022 of all the states in the U.S.
Here is my ranking table.
Oregon started out ranking relatively low: 43rd out of 50 states. It moved up to 31st, because it had the highest increase in death rate from 2019 to 2022. Its neighboring state of Washington also had a very large increase.
As you can see, all these states essentially more than doubled their drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2022.
By the way, only one state actually improved in drug OD age-adjusted death rates between 2019 and 2022, according to preliminary statistics.
So, congratulations, New Jersey.
If all you did was repel people to go to other states to die, that’s still something to celebrate.
All the other states saw increases.
I will be writing/speaking more about this.
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