70K overdose deaths may be unaccounted for in US: 4 things to know

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States have been underreporting opioid related deaths since 1999, according to a study published June 27 in Public Health Reports.

For the study, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) analyzed death certificate data for opiod deaths from the National Center for Health Statistics from every state between 1999 to 2015.

Here are four study findings:

1. Between 1999 and 2015, 438,607 individuals died from unintentional drug overdoses.

2. Since 1999, researchers estimate there have been 70,000 unaccounted opioid-related deaths across the U.S. 

3. Annual deaths due to opioid overdoses increased from 17,000 deaths in 1999 to more than 50,000 deaths in 2015, representing a roughly 401 percent increase.

4. Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania left at least 35 percent of their overdose deaths unspecified when reporting state mortality data. Pennsylvania alone had more than 10,000 overdose deaths left blank during the 17-year period, while Vermont had fewer than 10. The authors believe these numbers are due to poor medical training for coroners.

"States may be greatly underestimating the effect of opioid-related overdose deaths because of incomplete cause-of-death reporting, indicating that the current opioid overdose epidemic may be worse than it appears," the authors wrote.

More articles on opioids: 

More kids overdosing on anti-addiction medication, study finds
This startup wants to track opioid use via sewers
Viewpoints: 2 physicians on the pros, cons of opioid prescribing limits

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