Data in the News: The Opioid Crisis

Categories: Big Data, Social Issues, Teaching

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The opioid crisis has dominated the U.S. news cycle for the past decade and in 2017 there were c. 50,000 opioid related deaths with no sign that the number of death will begin to decrease any time soon. If you have read any news on this issue you will no doubt have been inundated with graphs and stats on the victims of the opioid epidemic and the profits of pharmaceuticals companies. For this blog post I decided to create an animated gif charting the number of opioid related deaths provided by the CDC from 1999 to 2017 to try and use data to tell the story of the opioid crisis in America.

The opioid crisis lends itself particularly well to an animated data visualization because of the shocking increase in the number of opioid deaths; c. 8,000 to 1999 to c. 50,000 in 2017. Additionally, the opioid crisis has multiple causes, which can be seen in the data. The crisis begins with the over prescription of opioid pain killers such as oxycodone (OxyContin is a brand name of the drug) and hydrocodone, which reaped huge profits for pharmaceutical companies. Then the proliferation of illegal synthetic markets further increased the number of overdoses. From 1999 to 2013 the number of opioid related deaths increased from c. 8,000 to c. 26,000. In 2013, the production of synthetic opioids became popular due to the crackdown on legal opioids and the number of opioid related deaths nearly doubled from c. 26,000 in 2013 to c. 50,000 in 2017, accomplishing in four years what had taken previously taken 14.

Of course you could put this information in a graph and it would tell the same story. But the gif format lends itself to highlighting how different events are impacting the data.


One thought on “Data in the News: The Opioid Crisis

  1. Diana,

    Your animated gif is a powerful depiction of the shocking increase in use of opioids. The stories behind these numbers are tragic and sad. I know, because I lost my sister to opiod addiction and the eventual overdose that lead to her untimely death. Once a lively recreation therapist brightening the lives of nursing home patients, a back problem meant doctors started generously prescribing opioids. Even after multiple hospitalizations for overdoses, I could not convince her doctors to stop giving her prescriptions for these drugs. We can only hope the data stories such as the one you have shared here can translate into pressure for policy changes and help for the people who are addicted, and their families.

    Anyone interested in data visualization and visual communication of research concepts and findings can find a related series of MethodSpace posts here: https://www.methodspace.com/?s=visualize.

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