The United States is being rocked by a drug overdose epidemic that is killing people in every state. In 2017, drug overdoses killed at least 70,237 Americans, according to data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (that’s the most recent year that complete data is available from). Drug overdoses can affect everyone, even celebrities. In fact, many deaths of celebrities have been linked to drug overdoses, including, most recently, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who overdosed at the Kennedy family’s waterfront summer home in Massachusetts.
Although the whole country has been effected by overdose deaths, some states have rates of drug fatalities that are much higher than the national average. The opioid epidemic is often thought of as a problem in Appalachia, but New England has also been especially hard hit. Across the country, drugs killed Americans at a rate of 21.7 deaths per 100,000 people. In the states most affected, the rate was much higher.
In 2017, these 10 states had the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths:
- West Virginia
The coal capital had an overdose death rate of 49.6 per 100,000 in 2017, more than double the national average. While some blame low economic prospects and a faltering economy for this, more recent data has shown that West Virginia was systematically targeted by drug manufacturers, who flooded the region with millions of opioid pills.
Ohio has been at the forefront of the opioid epidemic for years, sometimes even used as a test market for cartels experimenting with synthetic opioids in their drug supply. In 2017, Ohio had an overdose rate of 39.2 per 100,000.
- Washington D.C.
Most people associated drug overdoses with rural America, but the nation’s capital has an alarmingly high overdose rate of 34.7 per 100,000. The fact that Washington D.C. is so severely affected shows that drug overdoses affect all areas of the country.
- New Hampshire
New Hampshire is better known for the lakes and mountains that draw tourists to the state, but it has also become a hotbed for overdoses. In 2017 New Hampshire had an extremely high overdose rate of 34 deaths per 100,000 residents. Even in a small state, that adds up quickly.
Maryland, especially the Baltimore area, has not been exempt from the overdoses that have plagued the east coast. In 2017 Maryland residents died from overdoses at a rate of 32.2 per 100,000, making it one of the worst states in the nation for drug-related deaths.
Like other rural states, Maine is affected by low economic prospects, and also has lots of residents who work physically risky jobs, like logging or fishing. That can put them at risk for injuries that are too often treated with opioids. In 2017, Maine had an overdose rate of 29.9 per 100,000.
Massachusetts has been at the forefront of universal healthcare and access to opioid overdose reversal drugs. Still, the state has a high overdose rate of 28.2 per 100,000. However, there is hope coming from the Bay State: early data indicates that in 2018 overdoses fell in the state, in part due to the availability of Narcan.
Like much of Appalachia, Kentucky has had its share of “deaths of despair.” The state had a 2017 opioid overdose rate of 27.9 per 100,000. Unfortunately, even as the state is rocked by drug-related deaths is continues to have one of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions.
Connecticut saw 27.7 overdoses per 100,000 people in 2017. Because of that, the state is fighting hard to understand the overdose epidemic. In 2019, EMS and poison control in the state began working together to track information on all overdose deaths.
- Rhode Island
Tucked between New England and New York, Rhode Island is on the route of opioid distribution. Not surprisingly, a lot of drugs make it into the state, giving an an opioid overdose rate of 26.9 per 100,000 in 2017.
Some states have been relatively untouched by opioids. Here are the states with the lowest opioid deaths in 2017.
- Hawaii: 3.4 deaths per 100,000
- Texas: 5.1 deaths per 100,000
- California: 5.3 deaths per 100,000
- Iowa: 6.9 deaths per 100,000
- Minnesota: 7.8 deaths per 100,000
- Oregon: 8.1 deaths per 100,000
- Washington 9.6 deaths per 100,000
- Georgie: 9.7 deaths per 100,000
- Colorado: 10 deaths per 100,000
- Oklahoma: 10.2 deaths per 100,000
Because of the varying populations, measuring overdoses per 100,000 people is the best way to tell how a state has been affected by drugs. However, it’s also interesting to look at which states have the most overdose deaths overall. In 2017, these states had the most overall deaths, regardless of their populations, according to CDC data. Note that some of these states with the highest death numbers overall were among the lowest percentage of overdose victims.
- Pennsylvania: 5,388 deaths
- Ohio: 5,111 deaths
- Florida: 5,088 deaths
- California: 4,868 deaths
- New York: 3,921 deaths
- Texas: 2,989 deaths
- Illinois: 2,778 deaths
- Michigan: 2,694 deaths
- New Jersey: 2,685 deaths
- North Carolina: 2,414 deaths