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USF Study Uncovers an Underreporting of Florida Opioid Overdose Deaths

Written by Jonathan Strum

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Updated 12/28/2022

Florida may have been underreporting its opioid death rates for nearly two decades. Learn more about what a recent study discovered about the Florida opioid crisis.

Florida’s opioid crisis may be even larger than it seemed. A recent study from the University of South Florida (USF) found that past rates of opioid-related overdose deaths may be underreported by nearly 40%.

From 2003 to 2017, the study estimates that opioids caused 34% more deaths than what was actually reported, and cocaine caused 37%. The statistics account for up to 39,304 deaths that were not reported as being caused by opioids. While overall death rates caused by overdose were accurate, the actual drugs involved were not always known. These findings show there are far more deaths related to opioids than previously thought.

The Florida drug problem has forced the state to take action by creating various overdose prevention programs. Like many other areas struggling with the U.S. opioid epidemic, Florida is now enforcing prescribing limits and participating in needle exchange programs. These approaches can help limit drug-related deaths, whether they’re caused by overdose or by transmitting deadly diseases through needle sharing.

See More: Prevent Overdose with Harm Reduction Therapy

Florida Opioid Statistics

Data gathered between 2017 and 2018 shows that Florida opioid deaths increased year to year. A few notable opioid overdose statistics include:

  • 4,279 deaths caused by opioids in 2017, a 9% increase from 2016
  • 1,878 deaths caused by multiple opioids in 2017, an 8% increase from 2016
  • 1,742 fentanyl-caused deaths, an increase of 25%
  • People aged 25 to 34 had the highest number of opioid deaths and opioid-related hospital visits

However, the USF study findings indicate that these rates may be much higher.

Causes of the Underreporting

The author of the study, Troy Quast, shared his thoughts about possible causes behind the underreported opioid death rates. The main issues he found were in strained resources, lengthy toxicology tests and coroners with high backlogs of deaths to examine.

In Florida, toxicology tests are required before a cause of death is submitted to the state. Unfortunately, this rule isn’t always followed, which creates a large discrepancy between reported opioid deaths and actual opioid deaths. The CDC receives death certificates from local authorities, but if these certificates do not list the correct cause of death, it’s impossible for the CDC to compile accurate statistics.

Quast points out how inaccurate these rates are could be causing authorities to allocate resources in the wrong areas. However, the CDC has begun awarding funds to states to help them gather more accurate data regarding drug-related deaths. By doing so, the U.S. can gain a better understanding of where drug prevention programs and resources are needed the most.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug use such as opioids, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is here to help. Contact us today to explore treatment options available to you.

View Sources

Quast, Troy. “Potential undercounting of overdose deaths caused by specific drugs in vital statistics data: An analysis of Florida.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, February 1, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Sunderland, Kelsey. “USF study uncovers federal under-reporting of Florida’s opioid deaths, drug overdoses.” WFLA, January 7, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Florida Department of Health. “Take Control of Controlled Substances.” Accessed February 6, 2020.

Mack, Sammy. “Key Florida Republicans Now Say Yes To Clean Needles For Drug Users.” NPR, June 27, 2019. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Florida Health. “Patterns and Trends of the Opioid Epidemic in Florida.” 2018. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Colombini, Stephanie. “Study Finds Federal Overdose Data Under-Reports Which Drugs Caused Deaths.” WUSF, January 23, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance.” July 16, 2019. Accessed February 6, 2020.