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Fact check: Paul Ryan's statistics on the US opioid crisis


More Americans died of overdosing on opioids in 2016 than any other year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Opioids are drugs derived from opium, which includes prescription pain killers as well as the illegal narcotic heroin. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives offered some statistics on the ongoing opioid epidemic via Twitter on June 19.  WikiTribune is verifying whether Ryan’s specific claims are accurate.  He made the two following claims:

Paul Ryan on Twitter

Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. The House will not relent in confronting the epidemic that is cutting short 115 lives each day. https://t.co/xw8zVBLWyY

Claim 1 : Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

Mostly true. Drug overdoses in general, which include opioids, were found to be the number one cause of death of Americans under 50, as originally reported by the New York Times in 2016. The New York Times used data from county and state governments that represent areas that accounted for 76 percent of opioid deaths in the previous year (2015). The Department of Justice has cited the under-50 statistic as well. 

The Center for Disease Control largely supported the findings of the New York Times in a report published on December 2017. It found that 35 out of 100,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 50 died from overdose.

To be clear, overdoses are caused by opioids by an overwhelming degree. Deaths from powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016 (CDC). 

Claim 2 : The epidemic [Opioid overdose]  is cutting short 115 lives each day.

True. This comes from a 2016 CDC report, which cataloged 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in the United States, a daily average of 115.75 deaths per day.

Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by opioid category: United States, 1999-2016

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Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by opioid category: United States, 1999–2016 (source: CDC)

Help fact check Paul Ryan’s claims. All contributions must have cited references and sources. If you conduct an interview, be sure to attach the audio and/or transcript.

 

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