What the opioid overdose numbers tell us

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The Center for Public Safety Initiatives at Rochester Institute of Technology last week released its analysis of data on 2018 opioid overdoses in Monroe County. The data provides a useful snapshot of the scope of the problem, as well as its geographic and demographic aspects.

In 2018, there were 1,133 reported overdoses in Monroe County. Those 1,133 overdoses were experienced by 910 individuals (16 percent experienced two or more overdoses). Fifteen percent, or 166, of the reported overdoses were fatal. 

Seventy-two percent of overdose victims were males. About 77 percent of overdoses were experienced by whites, with 13 percent by Latinos (which is higher than their 9 percent of the Monroe County population) and 9 percent by blacks (lower than their 16 percent of the county population). The 2018 findings suggest overdose sufferers are most often in their 20s and 30s, with a median age of 34; the most common age is 24 to 28. 

Geographically, 64 percent of all Monroe County opioid overdoses occurred in the city of Rochester. Yet nearly 30 percent of individuals who overdosed in the city were not city residents. However, the vast majority of city residents—95 percent—who overdosed, did so in the city of Rochester. This seems to indicate that suburbanites relatively often travel into the city before or in connection to their opioid overdoses, while travel in the opposite direction is rarer.

The study also looked at variation across days of the week and months of the year when overdoses were most often occurring. Across Monroe County, there was relative consistence in terms of monthly overdoses, though there was a modest increase in late spring and early summer (May to July), and a drop in November and December.

In terms of days of the week, there was also relative consistency. Yet there were considerably more overdoses on Mondays, followed by Wednesdays. The least number of overdoses (though not by a lot) happened on Fridays and Saturdays.

The report’s authors found it noteworthy that such a large number of unique individuals had suffered overdoses, since “it shows how many new people are overdosing compared to the same people repeatedly overdosing.” 

Further, they found it relevant that there was relatively little variation in overdoses based on the month of the year or the day of the week, as that “speaks to the nature of opioid addiction; opioids are highly addictive, and are not typically used as ‘party drugs.’”  

The report also ominously cautions that these statistics “include only opioid overdoses that are made known to law enforcement.” Since many more overdoses never come to the attention of authorities, the 1,133 overdoses in Monroe County in 2018 should be thought of as “a conservative underestimate of the total number.”  

What also stood out to me was the sheer number of deaths. Especially when you compare 166 opioid overdose deaths to the estimated number of deaths that occur annually due to other causes such as cancerssuicide and car accidents.

The below chart was put together from various recent annual death estimates for Monroe County. One thing is for certain: what we hear about the scope and deadliness of this growing problem is not being exaggerated. 

3 thoughts on “What the opioid overdose numbers tell us

  1. Actually, the suicide/overdose question is not an easy one to answer. The difficulty is in assessing the mental health of the victim at time of overdose — not an easy issue. Most addiction derives from physical or emotional pain, which in and of itself can contribute to a sense of despair and ultimately suicide. A published study on-line estimates the suicide rate amongst opioid overdoses at 16%

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