Prior work documents that Veteran drug overdose mortality increased from 2010 to 2016. The present study assessed trends from 2010 to 2019, by drug type and recent receipt of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services, and compared rates for Veteran and non-Veteran US adults.
This retrospective cross-sectional study used data from Veterans Affairs (VA) medical records, the VA/Department of Defense Mortality Data Repository, and CDC WONDER. Trends were compared using Joinpoint regression.
From 2010-2019, age-adjusted overdose mortality rates increased 53.2% among Veterans and 79.0% among non-Veterans. Age-adjusted rates of overdose mortality among Veterans rose from 19.8/100,000 in 2010 to 32.6/100,000 in 2017, before falling to 30.3/100,000 in 2019. Despite the decrease from 2017 to 2019 in overall overdose mortality, rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone and involving psychostimulants continued to increase through 2019. In 2019, overdose mortality was lower for male Veterans than male non-Veterans (standardized rate ratio (SRR) = 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.77-0.84). Among male Veterans, rates were higher in all years for those with recent VHA use than those without (2019: SRR=1.69, 95% CI: 1.56-1.83). From 2010-2019, overdose mortality rates increased faster among female Veterans without VHA use than those with VHA use.
From 2015 onward, Veteran men experienced lower age-adjusted overdose rates than non-Veteran men. In all years, overdose rates were higher among male Veterans with recent VHA use than those without recent use. While overall rates of Veteran overdose deaths declined from 2017 to 2019, rates involving psychostimulants and synthetic opioids continued to rise.

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