Taking the Measure of a Fatal Drug Epidemic

65 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2016

See all articles by Christopher J. Ruhm

Christopher J. Ruhm

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: August 2016

Abstract

This analysis utilizes death certificate data from the Multiple Cause of Death (MCOD) files to better measure the specific drugs involved in drug poisoning fatalities. Statistical adjustment procedures are used to provide more accurate estimates, accounting for the understatement in death certificate reports resulting because no drug is specified in between one-fifth and one-quarter of cases. The adjustment procedures typically raise the estimates of specific types of drug involvement by 30% to 50% and emphasize the importance of the simultaneous use of multiple categories of drugs. Using these adjusted estimates, an analysis is next provided of drugs accounting for the rapid increase over time in fatal overdoses. The frequency of combination drug use introduces uncertainty into these estimates and so a distinction is made between any versus exclusive involvement of specific drug types. Many of the results are sensitive to the starting and ending years chosen for examination, with a key role of prescription opioids for analysis windows starting in 1999 but with other drugs, particularly heroin deaths, becoming more significant in more recent years and, again, with confirmatory evidence of the importance of simultaneous drug use.

Suggested Citation

Ruhm, Christopher J., Taking the Measure of a Fatal Drug Epidemic (August 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22504, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2823312

Christopher J. Ruhm (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy ( email )

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