Lies, Damned Lies, and Overdose Statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Overdose Statistics | July 17, 2016 |  By Pat Anson, Editor

“There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Which brings us to overdoses — and the confusing, sometimes exaggerated, and often contradictory statistics on how many Americans are dying daily from opioid pain medication

According to the nation’s news media, anywhere from dozens to hundreds of Americans are dying every day from drug overdoses — or as the Los Angeles Times boldly claimed today, “Overdose deaths now total 130 every day, or roughly the capacity of a Boeing 737.”  

According to Boeing, a 737 can hold between 85 and 215 passengers, depending on the model.

The Times story got me curious about how other news organizations are reporting the overdose numbers. Here is a sampling:

  • “100 Americans die of drug overdoses each day.” The Washington Post
  •  “Dozens of Americans die daily from overdoses of pain relievers, heroin and other opioids.” Associated Press
  • “The United States averages 110 legal and illegal drug overdose deaths every day.”  Pittsburgh Post Gazette
  • “The number of these deaths reached…  about 125 Americans every day.” New York Times
  •  “More than 120 Americans die of opiate overdoses every day.” Logan Daily News
  •            “44 people in the U.S. die every day from overdose of prescription painkillers.” Des Moines Register
  • “More than 40 Americans die every day from prescription opioid overdoses.” Fox News
  • “Roughly 78 Americans die every day from overdoses of opioids.” Fox News

Yes, that’s right, Fox News reported two different estimates

To be fair, the numbers depend on whether you’re counting all drug overdoses, opioid overdoses alone, or just prescription painkiller overdoses. Still, the numbers are all over the map and probably confusing to most readers.

Advocacy groups and politicians also play the numbers game:

So who is right? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28,647 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2014, which works out to about 78 per day — the number most often reported by the nation’s news media.

It is also a very misleading number, because many of those deaths include overdoses from heroin, illicit fentanyl and other illegal opioids.

Take out the illegal drugs and the CDC admits that only about “half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.”

That estimate too is misleading, because some heroin and illicit fentanyl deaths are wrongly reported as prescription opioid overdoses, because the coroner or medical examiner never actually performed a toxicology test on the deceased. The CDC admits that as well, but not too loudly.

statistics don’t always tell the truth.

The following are excerpt from some of the comments posted on this article:

Nancy England

(glossing right over the fact that almost 20,000 people died from drug overdoses that were NOT opioid or heroin

that number of deaths was less than 2 per 100,000 (not to make light of that number but it is still extraordinarily small in the grand scheme of things that are killing people)

Also very important to note – in this persecution of doctors and pain patients increasing over the past few years is: “Heroin overdose death rates increased by 26% from 2013 to 2014″.

Several pain patients who have lost their doctors or been cut off from their pain meds have wound up turning to heroin so it makes perfect sense that these street drug naive people would increase that OD death statistic. The report does note a connection between the two but intimates that is caused by people misusing or abusing/becoming addicted to pain meds and then moving on to heroin.

the writers do acknowledge several serious “limitations” to their statistics – way down in the body of the report including reporting differences, double counting in some cases, the inability to determine the difference between prescription and illicit Fentanyl, and that “some heroin deaths might be misclassified as morphine because morphine and heroin are metabolized similarly”

It is pure propaganda specifically designed to aid in the hysterical hype of this “epidemic” and enrich the corporations involved

Robert Brown

Let’s try this statistic on for size: Every 11 seconds, someone dies in the U.S.A. 2,596,993 people died in 2013, 15 percent more than were dying just a generation before, in 1993

It is the worst public health emergency in history. How can we stop it? If we don’t stop it, we will soon see more than 3,000,000 die annually in the land of the free. Would someone think about the children, please?

15,000 or more died from gastrointestinal bleeds caused by NSAIDs

Also, few of the opioid deaths cited were caused by opioids alone, rather opioids were involved, or perhaps even just “associated” with opioids. Instead, more than 60% of the deaths that involved prescription opioids were ruled to be due to multiple drug toxicity (read alcohol, in many cases).

Why not crack down on alcohol just as severely as we’re cracking down on opioids?

Dee Cochrane

toxicology can’t tell the difference between illegal or legally obtained prescription opioids so we don’t know how many deaths are caused by illegally or legally obtained opioids…. the only reason we don’t know is because those responsible for reporting the cause of death aren’t bothering to make the distinction.

It would be quite simple to find out if an overdose was caused by an illegal or legal source, you just have to look at the victims medical records and find out if they had been provided with a prescription of opioids from their doctor. If they did then they are a prescription overdose statistic, if not then they are an illegal/street drug overdose statistic.

Sadly there are many suicides in the pain community brought on by an inability to cope with the unyielding pain any longer

…suicide is the leading cause of death among pain patients and the fact that all of those death are completely preventable and needless.

She also goes on to point out that many of the pain patients who take their live do have opioid prescriptions but due to lack of education the treating doctor is under treating the patients pain is never properly controlled so the patient reaches there breaking point ,feeling that death is the only way to end their intolerable pain

So a very real problem in the treatment of pain goes unrecognized. She estimates that 75 to 90% of accidental overdoses among pain patients are actually suicides! But how do you even begin to fix a problem when the system doesn’t or wont recognize that it even exists!?


While studying at the State University for my undergrad in Business Finance and grad degree in Administration, I noticed Math professors never gave much Creedence to statistics. I once asked my math professor why they didn’t care for statistics and was told that statistics can support any desired finding an author has for an intended outcome  

There are several more enlightening comments on this article: Lies, Damned Lies, and Overdose Statistics


2 thoughts on “Lies, Damned Lies, and Overdose Statistics

  1. Pingback: How to Lie to Yourself and Others With Statistics | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

  2. Pingback: CDC Releases More Faulty Research About Opioids | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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