The overdose crisis continues unabated in the United States. While the epidemic was originally fueled largely by prescription opioid pain relievers, around 2010 a dramatic increase in heroin-related overdoses began. After remaining essentially stable for years, overdose deaths involving heroin spiked rapidly, more than tripling between 2010 and 2014. Starting in 2014, the epidemic began another transformation. Black market drug products—both heroin and counterfeit pills – became increasingly adulterated with illicitly—manufactured synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl analogues. In the span of a single year, from 2014 to 2015, deaths attributed to fentanyl and related drugs spiked by over 70 percent.
Because the contours of the epidemic are shifting so rapidly, it is vital that governments, clinicians, and the public have access to timely, comprehensive data regarding overdose decedents. Unfortunately, such data are rarely available in a timely manner. Medical examiner or coroner data are often incomplete and, in many states, not available for months after the date of death. In part to address this problem, a handful of states have established bodies that specifically review overdose deaths to provide additional data regarding overdose decedents and, typically, make recommendations for policy improvements. This report briefly explains and contrasts the specifics of panels in the six states that have established such panels as of late 2017.