New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) found a role within the Trump administration after all. On Wednesday, it was announced that he would lead a White House commission aimed at fighting drug addiction — particularly the rise in opioid abuse, which has become a genuine crisis in the United States.
There are scores of stories detailing the extent to which opioids have reshaped public health and law enforcement, but one detail from a story on Thursday morning stood out for me.
The district attorney for Kings County, N.Y. — better known as Brooklyn — announced 37 arrests for distribution of a range of drugs, including the opioid heroin. The head of the NYPD’s detective squad, Robert Boyce, also spoke at the news conference, and he laid out an unexpected statistic.
“An excess of 1,200 overdosed last year. We only had 355 murders last year, so you can do the numbers,” he said. “This is the leading crisis in the city.”
That ratio — overdose deaths to murders — is an interesting way of considering the scale of the crisis. With that in mind, I pulled data on opioid deaths in each state from 2006 to 2015 (the most recent year available, though not all states have data) as well as the number of murders in each state over the same period.
The trend is clear. In 2006, 27 of the 49 states for which there is data had more opioid deaths than murders. By 2014, that number was 45 — with only five states recording more murders than deaths from opioids. Data are available for 26 states from 2015; in each, the number of opioid deaths was higher than the number of murders.
However, not all states are equal. Using the most recent figures for each state, it’s clear that the Northeast has been more heavily affected than other parts of the country.
But even that is a relatively recent development. New Hampshire’s spiking opioid problem — up from 98 deaths in 2008 to 451 in 2015 — and relatively low number of murders means that it has experienced the largest spike in the ratio between the two. Other states with high opioid-death-to-murder ratios have also seen big upticks in the past few years.
When he was on the campaign trail running for president, Christie frequently spoke about addiction. He would often mention a friend of his from law school who’d gotten addicted to opioids after a back injury and who eventually died of an overdose. As governor, Christie attended his friend’s funeral. In New Jersey, the ratio of opioid deaths to murders in 2014 was relatively low: 2.4 overdoses for every homicide.
Christie’s campaign for the presidency wasn’t successful, but he’ll at least now have a chance to tackle this issue.