Drug disorder, by the numbers

Research addresses saturation of epidemic in state counties

The news and stories of the drug epidemic across the United States have relayed the disruption of many families and communities. Statistics, such as more than 130 U.S. citizens die every day from opioid overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have shown those affected, the thousands across the country and hundreds in counties and towns. While articles and statistics about drug overdoses have been published and discussed, some may not know the statistics of drug use in their own county.

In September 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released a graphic titled, “Annual Estimated Unique Individuals with Drug Use Disorder,” in each of the 66 counties, plus the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, based on statistics from 2017. Using U.S. census data from the 2017 American Community Survey five-year estimates, a percentage of the concentration of people with the disorder were derived from the disorder estimates and the county’s population. 

To see how saturated a county is with people with drug use disorder, each county was ranked for its population, estimated number of individuals with drug use disorder and the percentage of people with a disorder in each county’s population.

Looking at the tri-state area, Greene County placed lower compared to the rest of the state’s counties: 58th in population, 50th in drug use disorder estimate and 38th with a disorder/population percentage of 1.7%. Washington County ranked in the middle overall in population and disorder estimates, but ranked low in disorder/population percentage at 49th, with 1.2%. Fayette County ranked toward the middle in population and disorder estimates, except in drug/population percentage, in which they are ranked third, with 3.48%.

In the Pittsburgh area, Allegheny County is ranked second in population, second in drug use disorder estimates and ninth in disorder/population percentage, with 3.17%. Westmoreland County ranked high in all three categories: 11th in population, fifth in disorder estimates and fifth in disorder/population percentage.

The lowest ranking disorder/population percentage counties in Pennsylvania are Cameron, Fulton, Sullivan and Forest counties. They each had less than 11 estimated people with the disorder, so the health department did not include the specific numbers for privacy, said the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

Philadelphia ranked first in population and disorder estimates while ranking sixth in disorder/population percentage, with 3.35%. Lawrence County, which is ranked 33rd in population and 23rd in disorder estimates, ranks first in disorder/population percentage, with 4.19%.

Edward Boice, The Yellow Jacket

The department of health used mortality weights from the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics and drug use estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“The mortality statistics for each county are used to apply weights to each county to estimate the number of people in the county with drug use disorder,” said the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Due to limitations in the survey, the estimates are lower than what the data shows, explained the department. Not all types of drugs, such as fentanyl, were included, and not all populations were surveyed.

“Instead, we chose to use the estimate of illicit drug use to illustrate the number of people with any substance use disorder, not including alcohol,” the Department of Health said. “We believe this statistic more accurately represents the epidemic in Pennsylvania.” 

A person with more than one drug addiction was not counted twice, as indicated by the word “unique” in the dataset’s title.

“An individual could have multiple healthcare claims or cases of a disorder, but we only wanted to estimate the number of people living with the disorder,” the department said.

To view a complete chart on the rankings of these statistics, visit The Yellow Jacket website. Look at the “Annual Estimated Unique Individuals with Drug Use Disorder” dataset at https://data.pa.gov/stories/s/9q45-nckt. For assistance in finding a drug use disorder treatment provider, call Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.