Is CDC Research and Reporting Biased?

By R Carter

How does the CDC collect and report data? In this and other posts I will be taking a look at this. Recently the CDC’s research and reporting has come under attack by such organizations as Washington Legal Foundation. WLF attacked methods used by the CDC in its 2016 Guidelines on Chronic Pain Management as biased and unethical. But is this the only occurrence of bad data or biased reporting?

To get some perspective on this I took a quick look at CDC research and reporting by looking at its claim that prescription opiates are the fastest growing area of opiate overdose deaths. Here’s what I found on a first look.

From the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), August 31, 2018 titled “Opportunities to Prevent Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription and Illicit Opioids, 11 States, July 2016–June 2017” I began fact checking data in the Acknowledgements section. The CDC provides comment on source data collected.

CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance program funded 12 states through a competitive application process in fiscal year 2016, and an additional 20 states and the District of Columbia in fiscal year 2017. Data were available for Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin for this report.

The states selected and pain by the CDC to facilitate its efforts in collecting prescription overdose data, predominantly share a common theme. That theme being, the majority are states where the overdose rate is higher than the national average. Of the 30 states selected, 20 are above the national average and have the highest population densities, 5 are at the national average and 5 are below. These states in green are those selected by the CDC.

Drug Overdose Rate by State 2017 Enhanced Data Collection-img
Source CDC

These are the states which statistically have higher overdose rates than the national average. State in blue are above the national average, green are at the national average and grey are below national average.

Drug Overdose Rate by State 2017-img
Source CDC

At first glance it appears the CDC is cherry picking its data sources. Using states with statistically higher rates and denser populations to support a position of an opiate epidemic. Is this really good science or objective reporting?