Drug Abuse and Firearm Deaths—How the Two are Linked

Man holding a gun

New information indicates that drug abuse and firearm deaths may share an intrinsic relationship. In all honesty, this would not come as much of a surprise. Drug abuse and alcoholism affects many different areas of American life and is the cause of many problems that we face. In fact, a lot of our country’s current problems can be traced back to drug abuse and alcoholism.

Take, for example, the drop in American life expectancy that made headline news a few years ago. Between the beginning of 2014 and the end of 2016, the average American life expectancy decreased by about three-tenths of one year. This computed to over one million potential years of life lost. The key, driving factor in why Americans were not living as long was because of increasing drug overdose deaths.

Another factor that has its roots in drug abuse is the increasing crime rates that we have seen in most major cities and even in some rural areas. Yes, unfortunately, as drug use goes up, so does the crime. According to the Bureau of Justice, about sixty percent of arrests made across America have something to do with drugs, and eighty percent of arrested drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their arrest.

Yet another factor to consider is that of the subject of this article, i.e. drug deaths and firearm usage. Unfortunately, increasing drug use statistics are also leading to increasing firearm use and resulting death from that firearm use.

New, Concerning Information on the U.S. Drug problem

Gun and heroin

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been closely monitoring the drug problem and its increases for several years now. According to the CDC, drug overdoses in America rose by twenty-one percent just between 2016 and 2017. And while reports for the 2017 year to the 2018 year have not been fully tabulated yet, we are quite concerned about that time period as well. But in just one year, (from 2016 to 2017) the drug problem increased more than it did in the four years prior to that. In 2016, twenty people for every one-hundred-thousand residents died from a drug overdose, compared to only sixteen people for every one-hundred-thousand residents in the year prior.

The CDC went on to discuss how, while deaths from liver disease, from cancer, from suicide, and from HIV/AIDS have all decreased, the overall death toll in America is still on the rise. Now, why could that be? It is because the death toll from drug and alcohol use is rising so rapidly that it has far outstripped the reductions in deaths from the other categories.

When questioned as to how more Americans are dying when so many causes of death have been reducing, Farida Ahmad, a lead study report author for the CDC, had this to say:

“People are dying in larger numbers from other causes, such as drug overdoses, or homicides and firearm-related injuries, both of which also rose last year.”

The CDC dove deep into this issue in their report, analyzing the top twenty causes of death in America. Drug overdoses showed the starkest increases in all examined categories. But what was even more concerning than that was that the other categories that also increased were almost always connected to drugs or alcohol.

According to the report, firearm-related injuries and homicides went up, and both of these categories often had drug abuse or drug crime as an underlying reason for the use of a firearm or for the homicide. What this tells us is that, more often than we would perhaps like to admit, drug abuse rests at the very foundation of multiple causes of death.

Drug Abuse and Firearms

The drug abuse issue is an “accelerating epidemic,” which means that it is climbing faster than our attempts to address it can reduce it. For the most part, the addiction crisis has been driven by opioid overdose deaths. This is the top drug, the one to be most concerned about. Potent synthetic opioids are now the number one killer, drugs like fentanyl, carfentanil, and heroin being mixed into prescription painkillers to make drugs that pack a lethal punch. The result? The overall drug-overdose death rate has more than tripled in this century alone.

When one area of death begins to increase, other areas seem to increase in tandem. This is a peculiar aspect of the human condition. For example, according to a direct quote by the Bloomberg:

“In the 12 months ending on June 30, 2017, the age-adjusted death rate rose slightly, to 727.8 deaths per 100,000 people…”

“In the 12 months ending on June 30, 2017, the age-adjusted death rate rose slightly, to 727.8 deaths per 100,000 people, from 723.6 in the prior 12 months. (Age-adjusted rates take into account the changing age distribution of the population.)”

What we have to understand here is the connection between drug overdose deaths and other causes of death. The next two paragraphs will explain how this pans out.

Man addict, sitting on the floor, thinking.

When a person uses drugs and alcohol, they begin to lead a very unhealthy, criminal lifestyle. From a logical perspective, their overall life expectancy plummets as a result. Wouldn’t it be safe to say that a drug user has a higher likelihood of receiving some kind of disease or health problem than a person who is healthy? Absolutely. And wouldn’t it also be safe to say that a drug user, given their habits and lifestyle, would also be more likely to be the victim of an intentional firearm homicide, a firearm injury, or a firearm-caused suicide? Absolutely.

What we can extrapolate from this is that not only does regular drug abuse increase a person’s odds of experiencing an overdose and a death from the drug use itself, but a drug user would also be more prone to deaths from other causes. Then, we can extrapolate that if there are significantly more people using drugs, which there are, deaths in the U.S. from either drugs or other causes that are connected to drugs will of course also increase in tandem.

Looking to Our Best and Our Brightest for the Answers

This is the problem in a nutshell. The drug epidemic increased exponentially, so overdose deaths also increase. At the same time, firearm deaths and disease-related deaths, car accidents, and other causes of death also go up, all because of a direct link to drug use.

As we move forward into the next few years our attention must be on reducing the drug problem, not allowing it to expand further or only being half-hearted in our efforts to address it. Our country’s drug epidemic will not go away on its own. It will also not reduce with only governmental efforts to make it reduce. We need to all get together to bring this problem down. These efforts have to start in our communities, in our hometowns, and amongst our families and our loved ones. We all need to work on this together.

We need to work on education and prevention to stop more people from becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. We need to increase rehabilitation efforts to actively help those who are currently addicted. We need to create a lifestyle amongst all families and communities that do not engage in drug or alcohol abuse.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.