Providing Insight On Drug-Related Deaths

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The 2007 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report on drug-related mortality, titled “Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2007: Area Profiles of Drug-Related Mortality” provides detailed information about drug-related deaths based on reports from participating medical examiners and coroners across the nation. The 2007 DAWN report contains information covering about 35% of the US population including statewide coverage for 10 states (Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia), 63 major metropolitan statistical areas and 479 jurisdictions throughout the nation.

DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related deaths referred to medical examiners and coroners in selected participating metropolitan areas and states. Although the DAWN data cannot be extrapolated to the entire United States, the information can be helpful for analyzing the nature and scope of substance abuse-related deaths in the areas it covers.

For example, analysis of the 2007 DAWN Report reveals that among the 10 states participating fully with DAWN, rates of drug-related deaths ranged from a high of 21.0 deaths per 100,000 population in New Mexico to a low of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 population in Virginia. The rate for the State of Oklahoma saw a 79 percent increase from 2006; while Vermont’s rate dropped 12 percent.


Among the 63 major metropolitan statistical areas rates of drug-related deaths ranged from a high of 26.1 per 100,000 population in the New Orleans, Louisiana area to a low of 1.1 per 100,000 population in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota area. Substantial increases of more than 40 percent in the rates of drug-related deaths occurred between 2006 and 2007 in 5 metropolitan areas: Ogden, Utah; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; San Diego, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Washington, DC. Conversely, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area saw its rate drop 28 percent during this time period.

Within the area covered by the 2007 DAWN report, opiates and opioids (e.g., heroin, methadone and many prescription “pain killers”) were the drugs most commonly associated with drug-related deaths. Opiates/opioids account for 50 percent or more of drug-related deaths in all 63 metropolitan statistical areas covered by DAWN, reaching as high as 93 percent in the Provo, Utah area.

The 2007 DAWN data also found that cocaine and benzodiazepines were the second and third most common drugs involved in drug-related deaths after opiates/opioids.

Additional detail is provided in the report on the frequency of 20 drugs including alcohol, stimulants, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants for the areas in which there is DAWN coverage.