Posted on October 28, 2021 by Amanda Cerreto

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today .

OCTOBER 29, 2021 — A study from the UTSA Department of Demography is taking a unique approach to the drug crisis: measuring the burden of opioid-related mortality in Texas.

Opioids Applied demography doctoral candidate Camerino Salazar and assistant professor Ying Huang from the College for Health, Community and Policy published the first study of its kind to quantify the burden of premature mortality related to opioid overdoses in Texas. Salazar and Huang believe there is an opportunity for a deep dive into these statistics, and to potentially uncover information that can lead to a reduction of deaths.

"When I took Huang's course on mortality, I began investigating the burden of opioid-related deaths," Salazar said. "And it became clear to me that nobody had done a study on this for Texas."

“By highlighting this loss, we can further prioritize policies that reduce the burden of opioid deaths in Texas communities.”

In the United States, opioids have contributed to nearly 60% of the 841,000 drug-related overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. In 2019 alone, over 70,000 deaths resulted from drug-related overdoses, and almost three-fourths of these overdose deaths involved opioids.

The study, which has been published in the Annals of Epidemiology , revealed that over a 20-year period, 19,039 opioid-related deaths occurred among persons age 15 to 64, resulting in an increase of 402% between 1999 and 2019.

However, the study does more than examine statistical deaths. “What I liked about this analysis was that [Salazar] applied potential lives lost due to opioid use,” Huang said. “It is an interesting and innovative way to use data.”

How does one quantify potential lives lost? Salazar used several research methods he learned in the applied demography program at UTSA.

The analysis compared the percentage of deaths attributable to opioids with the associated expected years of potential life lost by age group. From there, the researchers quantified the burden and contribution of opioid-related mortality to life expectancy differentials and premature mortality in adults residing in Texas. They also assessed whether significant differences existed in age-adjusted opioid mortality rates by key demographic groups.

“Examining the burden of death, as opposed to only looking at mortality alone, is vital for helping to quantify the social and economic costs related to a specific cause of death,” Salazar explained. “In our study, we included this measure to numerically estimate Texas’s social and economic loss resulting from opioid drug overdoses. Additionally, by highlighting this loss, we can further prioritize policies that reduce the burden of opioid deaths in Texas communities.”

This study is the latest in a long line of examples of the frequent student-faculty collaboration seen in the Department of Demography at UTSA.

“Most faculty members in our department are doing an excellent job in mentoring and publishing with students,” Huang said, “and they are all great role models for me.”

— Amanda Cerreto