In November 2018, CBS published a report that analyzed the fatal overdose rates in all 50 U.S. States. The results varied from 6.4 overdose deaths, per 100,000 people (Nebraska), all the way up to 52.0 overdose deaths, per 100,000 people(West Virginia). Based on those numbers, it is easy to see how drug overdoses, fueled by opioids, are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.  In 2016, according to the New York Timesmore than 63,000 people, died, which was more than car accidents, handguns, or deaths at the height of the HIV epidemic. Below you’ll find several charts, consolidated from various sources, depicting overdose related deaths, along with three of the other leading causes of death in our country. We highlighted these charts on a national level, and below that you’ll find the data corresponds with local statistics.

Cause of Death in the U.S. (2016)# of DeathsRate (per 100k)
Drug Overdose63,63219.8
Car Accidents37,46111.6
Cause of Death, Massachusetts (2016)# of DeathsRate (per 100k)
Drug Overdose2,22733.0
Car Accidents3895.7

∗Data represents deaths of persons with a diagnosis of HIV/Aids, Regardless of the cause of death.


Re-entry populations have always seen increased risk upon release from prison. Here in Massachusetts, according to a 2015 Northeastern University public health study, people in the reentry period from prison are 130 times more likely to have a fatal overdose than at any other point in their lives.  One factor in this is based on lower tolerance levels, but that would be true for any addict in recovery, and it’s not.  These numbers are so high because of the added stressors upon people in reentry, and we are all complicit, consciously and unconsciously, as a society in forcing individuals to be ineligible to reenter the American system after they have committed a crime and served their time.  The cumulative realities are that it is nearly impossible to secure affordable housing, earn a living wage, and access higher education or apprenticeships for an ex-con and these are largest contributors to recidivism.  And, as David Harris, of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute of Race and Justice at Harvard University points out in one of our interviews, “These problems were likely the same for many of the individuals we see at one of our Boston area re-entry programs, before or after they committed the crime, simply due to the families and communities they were born into.”  Reentry is a fallacy, and it’s an expensive one.  It hurts individuals, and it perpetuates a criminal class, which hurts communities at large.

Additional studies confirm similar alarming trends over a longer period of time.  According to the 2016 Massachusetts opioid death assessment, former inmates were 56 times more likely to fatally overdose within a year after release than members of the general population. A 2014 report from the World Health Organization found ratios of overdose deaths ranged from eight- to 129-fold within two weeks of release.

Several factors heighten the risk of heroin relapse during the reentry period. However, there are two factors which make this even deadlier today: decreased tolerance to opioids, and the the increased presence of fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin.

You know the statistics.
Now hear their Stories.
In Their Shoes,
Coming soon.

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