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Drug, Opioid-Involved, and Heroin-Involved Overdose Deaths Among American Indians and Alaska Natives — Washington, 1999–2015
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  • Alternative Title:
    MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
  • Description:
    The opioid epidemic has resulted in a threefold increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States during 1999-2015 (1). Whereas American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have experienced larger increases in drug overdose mortality than have other racial/ethnic groups in the United States (2), little is known about the regional impact of opioids in tribal and urban AI/AN communities. To address this data gap, death records from the Washington State Center for Health Statistics, corrected for misclassification of AI/AN race, were examined to identify trends and disparities in drug, opioid-involved, and heroin-involved overdose mortality rates for AI/AN and non-Hispanic whites (whites) in Washington. Although AI/AN and whites had similar overdose mortality rates during 1999-2001, subsequent overdose rates among AI/AN increased at a faster rate than did those among whites. During 2013-2015, mortality rates among AI/AN were 2.7 and 4.1 times higher than rates among whites for total drug and opioid-involved overdoses and heroin-involved overdoses, respectively. Washington death certificates that were not corrected for misclassification of AI/AN race underestimated drug overdose mortality rates among AI/AN by approximately 40%. National statistics on the opioid epidemic, which report that overdose mortality rates are significantly higher among whites than among AI/AN, are not reflective of regional prevalences, disparities, and trends. Comprehensive efforts to address the opioid epidemic in AI/AN communities rely on strong partnerships between tribal governments and local, state, and federal entities. Additional measures are needed for community-based surveillance, treatment, and prevention to effectively respond to the epidemic across diverse tribal and urban AI/AN communities.

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