Overdose Deaths Aren’t Always Concentrated In Areas With Heavy Drug Trafficking

Apr 22, 2016

Dark blue counties have seen no growth rate in overdose deaths, while red counties have seen rates climb between 15-fold to 80-fold since 1979.
Credit Courtesy University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health have found that areas that are hot spots for drug trafficking haven’t necessarily seen a corresponding increase in overdose deaths. The findings are based on overdose data from 1979 to 2014 and are published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Federally designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas can be found in every state except Alaska and Minnesota and are particularly concentrated along the border with Mexico, the west coast, Appalachia and Florida.

Researchers expected to find that those areas also had higher rates of drug overdoses, according to lead author Jeanine Buchanich.

“We found that the drugs seem to be moving through and there are some areas, again particularly Western Pennsylvania, that isn’t a High Intensity Drug Trafficking area but has a large drug overdose problem,” she said.

Local law enforcement agencies in high intensity areas receive extra assistance from the federal government for investigating and prosecuting drug trafficking.

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas are located in every state except Minnesota and Alaska, and are concentrated along the boarder with Mexico, the West Coast, in Appalachia and Florida.
Credit Office of National Drug Control Policy

But Buchanich said the results of her team’s analysis shows that other parts of the country need federal help in preventing drug deaths and fighting addiction as well.

“We can’t overlook other areas like western Pennsylvania that have a drug overdose problem and need additional resources to combat the mortality issue that is occurring here,” she said.

Southern Michigan, eastern Ohio, New Jersey and coastal New England are also among the areas seeing the greatest increase in mortality.

The nationwide drug overdose death rate has increased by an average of 6.7 percent every year since 1979.