Opioid overdose epidemic sex-biased toward male deaths

Opioid Overdose Deaths By Sex
(deaths per 100,000 in U.S. in 2015)
age group women’s death rate men’s death rate men / women death ratio
ages 15 to 24 4.7 11.3 2.4
ages 25 to 44 13.5 31.7 2.3
ages 45 to 64 13.4 21.3 1.6
Source: Rudd et al. (2016b), using official data.

The number of persons killing themselves with drug overdoses is rapidly increasing. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose 211% from 1999 to 2015 to a total of about 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015.[1] Deaths from drug overdoses number nearly three times greater than homicide deaths.[2] Many persons worry about guns in the hands of others. Drugs that persons put into their own bodies are a far more prevalent cause of death. Persons’ own despair kills them much more often than other persons’ violence does.

A large and rapidly growing category of drug overdose deaths is opioid overdose deaths. From 2014 to 2015, opioid overdose deaths increased 22%. In 2015, about 75% of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. About a third of opioid overdose deaths involved heroin.[3] Heroin is a drug that’s not legally prescribed for anything. Heroin is a drug for intentional self-destruction.

About twice as many men kill themselves with opioid overdoses as do women. The age pattern in the sex ratio of opioid overdose deaths underscores men’s sexed despair. The sex ratio drops for persons ages 45 and over.[4] Sexual competition decreases considerable as persons age out of midlife. Men’s despair is connected to men’s sexual interests.

A profound cause for men’s despair is lack of public concern about men’s deaths. Men die from violence more than four times more frequently than women do. While the facts of men’s higher violent death rate and lower lifespan are readily available, they are publicly ignored. Underscoring contempt for men’s lives, the U.S government has committed billions of dollars to programs addressing violence against women. No such programs exists for violence against men. Elites proclaim that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem in the world today. Media reports on the opioid epidemic similarly ignore that the opioid epidemic is sex-biased toward men’s deaths.[5]

Public leaders must address the real reasons for men’s despair. Societies in which a large and increasing number of men are killing themselves are sick societies. Ignoring that problem, and viciously suppressing discussion of injustices against men, makes for an unprecedented age of deceptions and lies.


[1] Hedegaard, Warner & Miniño (2017), calculated from the data for Figure 1.

[2] Homicide deaths in the U.S. are readily available from the WISQARS system of the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

[3] Calculated from Tables 1 & 2 in Rudd et al. (2016b). Here’s a spreadsheet showing the details of my calculations and additional data. Rudd (2016a) provides a longer term perspective on opioid overdose deaths.

[4] Calculated from Tables 1 & 2 in Rudd et al. (2016b). See spreadsheet. Men are also more likely to suffer dose escalation and overdose death in clinical use of opioids. See Kaplovitch et al. (2015).

[5] Since 1999, men’s and women’s opioid deaths have risen in tandem, with men’s deaths consistently about twice women’s deaths. Men’s and women’s lives are intimately related. Men’s despair is a primary source of women’s despair.


Hedegaard, Holly; Warner, Margaret; Miniño, Arialdi M. 2017. “Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2015.” NCHS data brief, no 273 (February). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Kaplovitch, Eric, Tara Gomes, Ximena Camacho, Irfan A. Dhalla, Muhammad M. Mamdani, David N. Juurlink, and Barbara Mintzes. 2015. “Sex Differences in Dose Escalation and Overdose Death during Chronic Opioid Therapy: A Population-Based Cohort Study.” PLOS ONE. 10 (8): e0134550.

Rudd, Rose A.; Aleshire, Noah; Zibbell Jon E.; and Gladden, R. Matthew. 2016a. “Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths — United States, 2000-2014.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 64 (50-51): 1378-1382.

Rudd Rose A.; Seth, Puja; David, Felicita; Scholl, Lawrence. 2016b. “Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 65 (Dec. 30):1445–1452.

Published under Creative Commons license.

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