Aug. 28, 2017

The Economic Link to the Opioid Epidemic

Courtesy of Bloomberg News

Christopher Ruhm, Batten Professor of Public Policy and Economics and a national expert on the widespread opioid epidemic, is interviewed about the economic link to the epidemic in this two-minute video.

He speaks with Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal, Abigail Doolittle and Julie Hyman.

Click on this program title, “What’d You Miss?”, or on the image above, to see the interview.


Ruhm’s research on the opioid crisis has drawn national attentionUVA Today a year ago interviewed Ruhm about his work that challenged the reported death rates then being accepted. The entire interview is here.

In his recent paper for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Geographic Variation in Opioid and Heroin Involved Drug Poisoning Mortality Rates, Ruhm used statistical analysis to offer more accurate estimates of drug-related deaths on a state-by-state basis. He analyzed drug fatality rates for 2014, as well as trends between 2008 and 2014.

By accounting for those drug-related deaths where no specific drug was identified on the death certificate and adding them to existing death-certificate data where specific drug causes were reported, Ruhm offers corrected opioid- and heroin-involved mortality rates. 

These corrected rates suggest that reported opioid and heroin mortality rates were off by 22 to 24 percent nationally, but with large variation in the errors across states.

For example, without corrections, opioid and heroin mortality rates were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Louisiana and Alabama, but barely at all in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont. When it came to heroin deaths, the rates were seriously understated in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Indiana and New Jersey but identified well in 14 states. 

On the other hand, changes in opioid death rates, between 2008 and 2014, were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona, but heavily overestimated in South Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Connecticut, Florida and Kentucky. Changes over time in heroin deaths were understated in most states with some of the largest underestimates occurring in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, Louisiana and Alabama.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about certain areas having particularly high levels of risk, and what I find is that those levels aren’t necessarily incorrect when based on death certificate reports,” Ruhm said, “but this gives us a much clearer geographic picture of the epidemic’s spread.”

In This Article

Professor of Public Policy and Economics
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Garrett 101