More Deadly Than War

Member Group : Reflections

“Drug overdose deaths in 2016 in the United States most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States,” according to “new data compiled from hundreds of health agencies,” reported Josh Katz in The New York Times on June 5, 2017 in “Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever.”

At 59.000, American drug overdose deaths in one year are greater by 25,348 than the 33,652 total American battle deaths in Korea during the three years of the Korean War.

Likewise, the estimated 59,000 U. S. drug overdose deaths last year amount to a higher death toll than the total 58,220 American military fatal casualties in the Vietnam War in 16 years, 1959-1975.

On July 8, 1959, the first two American servicemen to die in the Vietnam War, Army Maj. Dale Buis and Army Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand, were ambushed in a Viet Minh strike on an American advisory military compound 20 miles northeast of Saigon.

Sixteen years later, on May 15, 1975, two weeks after the American evacuation of Saigon, Kelton Turner, an 18-year old Marine was killed in action, the last American fatal military casualty in the Vietnam War.

Equating U.S. drug overdose deaths to American war fatalities, the estimated 59,000 U.S. drug overdose fatalities in 2016 also surpasses the 53,402 total American military deaths in World War I.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned 59,000 fatal U.S. drug overdoses in 2016 underestimated the number of fatalities.

New York Times writer Katz returned to the topic of U.S. drug overdose in his September 2, 2017 article in the Times, “The First Count of Fentanyl, Deaths in 2016: Up 540% in Three Years,” reporting that “the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths in 2016 shows overdose deaths growing even faster than previously thought.”

Drug overdoses in the U.S. “killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016,” reported Katz. “It’s a staggering rise of more than 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year �" and even higher than The New York Times’s estimate in June, which was based on earlier preliminary data.”

Now a greater killer than cancer or heart disease among large age segments of the U.S. population, “drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids �" primarily fentanyl and its analogues �" continue to push the death count higher,” reported Katz. “Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine. Together they add up to an epidemic of drug overdoses that is killing people at a faster rate than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.”

In World War II, the deadliest war in the history of humankind, American battle deaths totaled 291,557 in five years, 1941-1945, or an average of 58,311 per year, less than the number of Americans now being killed annually by drug overdoses.

Locally, Dr. Neil A. Capretto, longtime Medical Director at the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, described the extent of the overdose crisis: “To put things in perspective, in Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties, since 9/11, drug overdose deaths have killed 5,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania. Can you imagine if we had a serial killer killing one tenth that number of people. Make no doubt about it, we do have a serial killer in our community, and it is addiction.”

Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor Emeritus of Economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. His email: [email protected]


Ralph R. Reiland
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15236
Phone: 412-527-2199
Email: [email protected]