According to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week, while fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine continue to account for most fatal drug overdoses in the Eastern U.S., it’s a very different story once you cross the Mississippi River. Throughout the Western U.S., more people are dying from methamphetamines than those other three drugs.
Crystal meth is killing people out West. (Creative Commons)
The report, which examined the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, identified fentanyl as the deadliest drug nationwide, followed by heroin. Between them, the two opioids accounted for about 60 percent of all fatal overdoses. The third leading killer drug, cocaine, was involved in slightly more than 20 percent of overdoses. Meth came in fourth, accounting for 13.3 percent of overdoses nationwide.
Of the five geographic regions in the report east of the Mississippi, fentanyl was the leading killer, with heroin and cocaine alternating in second and third places. Meth never made it higher than fifth place among killer drugs in the East. It didn’t even make the top 10 in Region 1 (New England) or Region 2 (New York and New Jersey, was in 7th place in Region 3 (the Mid-Atlantic states), and 5th place in Region 4 (the South) and Region 5 (the Midwest).
In the West, though, Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) was the only region where meth wasn’t the leading cause of overdose deaths. There, it came in second behind fentanyl. But from Houston to Honolulu and San Diego to Sioux Falls, meth reigned supreme. In both Region 7 and Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), meth accounted for more than one-fifth of all overdose deaths, while in Region 8 (Northern Plains and Rockies), it accounted for more than a quarter of all ODs. In Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada) and Region 10 (Pacific Northwest and Alaska), meth was responsible for more than a third of all ODs.
Overall, the East has a significantly higher rate of drug overdose deaths. The age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 ranges from a low of 9.1 in the Southeast to a high of 22.5 in New England, while in the West, all regions except Region 7 had death rates of 1.7 or lower.
Clearly, many, many more drug users per capita are dying in the East, and the situation there, especially with fentanyl, requires and deserves serious attention. But if anything is to be done about drug overdose deaths in the West, dealing with methamphetamine becomes a key issue.