How the Opioid Epidemic Hits Different Demographics

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The opioid overdose epidemic has spread to almost every corner of the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also shows how it's spread to different demographic groups since 1999.


Men are roughly twice as likely to die from opioid overdoses as women.

In general, men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs, and are more likely to die of unintentional injuries in general than women according to CDC data, so the gender difference for opioids is perhaps not surprising. However, the epidemic is clearly not leaving women behind. Beyond crude death rates, research has shown that there are important gender-based differences in the clinical profiles and treatment efficacy for people dependent on opioids.   

The gap between white and black opioid death rates is large, but narrowing.

Between 2015 and 2016, the crude death rate from opioid overdoses for African Americans surged from 6.3 to 10 deaths per 100,000—the largest single-year increase for any race group. Whether this change reflects a larger trend remains to be seen.

In the early days of the opioid crisis, research suggests that blacks were less likely than whites to receive opioid prescriptions. By 2015, new evidence suggests that the racial gap in prescriptions had narrowed. However, prescriptions are only part of the story, as the opioid crisis has increasingly morphed from a prescription drug crisis to an illegal drug crisis.

Note: Mortality data may not be available for all locations, particularly low-population locations. The CDC does not report small death counts to protect the privacy of individuals. 


About the Data

Data was queried from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control API, based on the following parameters:

  • Age groups: 12-17, 18-25, 26-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+

  • Years: 1999-2016 (end).

  • All days, autopsy statuses, places of death

  • UCD codes: F11.0, X40-X44, X60-X64, X85, Y10-Y14

  • MCD codes: T40.0-T40.4, T40.6

Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-Based Program from the Bureau of Justice