CDC: Drug and Gun Deaths Compared

CDC: Drug and Gun Deaths Compared

Gun deaths and drug deaths both continue to increase across America, and both have captured wide public and media attention. But when you compare the statistics for each, the effects of drugs far outweigh those caused by guns. From 2000 to 2014, says a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the "rate of deaths" from all drug overdoses increased 137 percent. And the rate of deaths from opioid overdoses increased 200 percent, including prescription opioid pain relievers and illicit opioids such as heroin. 2014 is the latest year for which statistics were available. "Rate of deaths" isn't the total number of deaths. The CDC calculates statistics using "the number of deaths per 100,000 persons" - a different way of looking at things statistically. We're more used to the total numbers, like how many overdose deaths there were in this or that year. For example, in 2013 there were 46,471 drug overdose deaths, while during 2014 there were 47,055. We can see right away that this is an increase of 916 more Americans succumbing to drug overdoses in 2014 compare to 2013, an increase of about 2 percent.

The problem with this is that the actual populations of cities, states and the country are constantly changing. A more valuable statistic would take into account what percentage of the total population is affected by the drug epidemic. For example, we could say "Ten people died from drugs in the (fictional) country of Bazzombia." But how many people are there in Bazzombia? If there were only 10 people in the whole country, then they're all dead - a 100 percent death rate, and that would be serious indeed! But if the population was a billion, it would be an insignificant statistic compared to most other countries today. So knowing what percentage of the population is affected is a much more accurate picture than just some total numbers. Now, using the CDC method that uses the population figures, the increase from 2013 to 2014 translates to a "death rate" of 14.7 percent per 100,000 population in 2014, compared to a death rate of 13.8 percent per 100,000 population in 2013. When these two percentages are compared, you get a 1-year net increase of 6.5 percent from 2013 to 2014 per 100,000 population. That's a more telling statistic than a simple total increase. And when you go back to the year 2000 and come forward through 2014, you get an overall increase of 137 percent for all drug overdoses, and a terrifying 200 percent increase just for opioids.

Opioid epidemic rivals disease epidemics

The CDC's numbers bear out what we already know about the opioid epidemic devastating America. This is an epidemic that rivals every disease epidemic since the greatest epidemic of all, the infamous Black Death of the Middle Ages, when 60 percent of the population of Europe perished from the bubonic plague. The 47,055 Americans who lost their lives in 2014 due to drug overdoses isn't even close to the Black Death's 60 percent of the European population. But it far outnumbers every other notorious cause of death such as car crashes, domestic violence, urban shootings, the much-hyped "mass shootings," and get this - every disease epidemic for nearly 100 years. The 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic was more devastating, but it only lasted a year or two. The drug epidemic has been going on, and increasing every year, for over 15 years.

Gun deaths vs drug deaths

Now let's talk about gun violence. We've all seen and heard the media coverage of gun violence and the endless debates over gun control. But when we compare gun numbers with drug numbers, we soon see why drugs are receiving the most attention from our elected representatives recently. Here's the stats for 2014:
Total incidents
Number of deaths

It's true that there are more gun deaths than drug deaths per the number of incidents; 12.5 thousand gun deaths out of 51.8 thousand gun incidents is a deadly statistic, and a lot more than 47 thousand drug deaths out of 2.1 million drug poisonings. That's a little more than one out of every four shootings resulting in a death. So yes, guns (and people who use them) are very deadly. But let's look more closely at these numbers:

  • One drug poisoning is reported to U.S. poison control centers every 15 seconds, day and night, month in and month out, all year long - over 2 million of them. And they include hundreds of thousands of children.
  • One shooting occurs every 10 minutes - an appalling statistic for an allegedly civilized society. But not even close to one every 15 seconds.
  • Total deaths from drugs in America numbers four times higher than all gun deaths.

The sheer volume of drug poisonings and overdoses affects far more Americans than gun violence. And they affect a wider cross-section of Americans than gun violence. The majority of gun incidents occur in urban populations, whereas drugs affect everyone, everywhere. And finally, the dollar cost of drug deaths and injuries is astronomically higher than shooting deaths. So the bottom line is this: Drug poisonings and drug deaths are overwhelmingly more costly to society than gun violence - personally and economically. And this reality is reflected in the recent shift in official attitudes among federal, state and local governments. While gun violence has captured a lot of media attention, the opioid epidemic is receiving more attention from elected officials than any recent disease epidemic. Sweeping new regulations have been passed in Washington with strong bilateral support to provide programs and funding to combat the epidemic.

Here at Novus, we're happy to see our elected representatives paying this kind of attention to our most deadly epidemic in decades.

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