Cause of Death
An Absence of Statistics
Due to the parameters and complexities of substance-related fatalities it is virtually impossible to assess the number of annual deaths. CDC statistics are based on the official cause of death, as listed on an individual's death certificate. CDC guidelines stipulate that only a Medical Examiner, Funeral Director, Physician, or Coroner can determine why a person died, not contributing factors.
Only cases in which the incident or accident has criminal or liability-related ramifications, or for a famous person, are toxicology examinations ordered. Even when a substance is discovered, medical examiners and doctors are charged to list the cause of death, versus speculating on contributing factors. With the exception of suicide, cases of obvious alcohol or drug over-dose, such as with actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, are classified as accidental, or heart failure.
Below are three separate examples preventing an accurate assessment.
Drugs and Alcohol
In a case where a person taking several medications for various health problems, and also abusing narcotics dies, the medical examiner or ER physician must access if they died due to health, a drug interaction, or the 15 Percocet tablets they took, or perhaps the alcohol they drank.
In the case of Whitney Houston, the toxicology report listed 3 substances that could have caused her death, yet her death certificate indicated that she died from 'accidental drowning', with a secondary cause of 'heart disease'.
Carrollton Church-bus accident
In the tragic Carrollton church-bus accident, where a person under the influence crashed into a school bus, killing 27 children and adults, the official “cause of death” of the innocent passengers were blunt force trauma, respiratory collapse, heart failure, blood loss, etc. Though the alcohol-induced driver caused the accident, 27 fatalities could not be categorized as drug or alcohol related.
15 Leading Causes of Death in 2010
1. Heart Disease 599,413
2. Cancer 567,628
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 137,353
4. Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke) 128,842
5. Accidents (unintentional injuries) 118,021 4
6. Alzheimer’s disease 79,003
7. Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) 79,003
8. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease) 48,935
9. Influenza and pneumonia 53,692
10. Intentional self-harm (suicide) 36,909
11. Septicemia 35,639
12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 30,558
13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease 25, 734
14. Parkinson’s disease 20, 565
15. Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids 18,090
A Sad Reality
Because these tragedies cannot be tracked, they seem to fly under the radar, leading the
public and government officials to believe we don’t have a serious drug or alcohol
problem. Statistics provided by NIDA, SAMSHA, & the AMA, as listed on our "Addiction"
page clearly indicate that we are facing an epidemic which is reaching younger kids each year.