A recent study piblished in Science Daily (February 21, 2019)  found that drug overdose death rates in the United States are 3.5 times higher on average when compared to 17 other high-income counties.

A team from the University of Southern California led by Jessica Ho examined the drug overdose mortality rate between 1994 and 2015 in 18 developed countries. They found that, for more than a decade, the United States  has had the highest drug overdose mortality rates: 27 times higher than in Italy and Japan, which have the lowest drug overdose mortality rates of the countries evaluated. Between 2003 and 2013, drug overdose mortality increased by 0.73 (men) and 0.26 (women) deaths per 100,000 population in the countries considered, compared to 5.53 (men) and 4.15 (women) deaths per 100,000 population in the United States. “One of the most surprising findings of this study is that it has not always been like this. In the late 1990s, Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden had the highest mortality rates. Furthermore, the countries with the highest risk of following in the footsteps of the US in the coming years are Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom”.

But will it stay that way?

Over 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2017, and the National Safety Council announced in January that Americans are now more likely to die of an accidental opioid overdose than in a car crash. But latest study results of 2018 see HERE, shows U.S. overdose deaths slighty fell for the first time in nearly three decades, a preliminary statistics suggest. Nearly 68,000 drug overdose deaths were reported throughout the country last year, according to provisional figures posted Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number may go up as more investigations are completed, but the agency expects the final tally will not exceed 69,000. The question is if this positive figures set a trend.

Potential drivers of the country’s strikingly elevated drug overdose mortality levels include health care provision, financing and institutional structures, such as fee-for-service reimbursement systems and tying physician reimbursement to patient satisfaction. Additional factors include a well-documented marketing blitz by the manufacturers of Oxycontin, American cultural attitudes towards pain and the medical establishment, and the scarcity of substance abuse treatment in the United States, where only an estimated 10 percent of those with a substance abuse disorder receive treatment.

Despite the latest positive figures the United States continue to be in the very top of this tragic list, but it may soon have competition for its dubious distinction. Ho points to the potential for drug overdose mortality to increase in other countries in the near future, noting similar and troubling patterns in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.