Fact Check: Hassan’s overdose claim rated False

Monitor staff
Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2016
During her recent State of the State address, Gov. Maggie Hassan dropped a startling statistic about New Hampshire’s opioid problem.

“Drug overdoses are now the second-most common cause of death in New Hampshire,” said the second-term Democrat. “Today, more Granite Staters are killed by overdoses than by diabetes, breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents.”

Much has been reported about the rapid rise of drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire. More than 400 people died from a drug overdose in 2015, up from 326 overdose deaths in 2014 and 192 in 2013.

The issue has taken a role in the 2016 presidential contest. During a recent ABC News Republican debate, moderator David Muir cited Hassan’s claim.

But are overdoses now the second leading cause of death in the state, beating out diabetes, breast cancer and motor vehicle accidents? PolitiFact New Hampshire decided to have a look at the numbers.

Hassan’s camp cited a chart created by New Futures, a statewide advocacy organization that focuses on substance abuse.

The bar chart, titled “In Perspective – New Hampshire Deaths,” stacks up drug deaths against other mortality statistics from 2014.

Drug overdose deaths rank second in the chart, behind Alzheimer’s disease, which led to 351 deaths in 2014.

Those two causes of deaths are followed by diabetes (310), flu and pneumonia (226), kidney disease (175), breast cancer (170), motor vehicle deaths (138) and a host of other cancers.

The slide, however, doesn’t include every cause of death, and leaves out several conditions that led to far more deaths than drug overdoses and Alzheimer’s disease in 2014.

Heart disease caused 2,464 New Hampshire deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same year, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke killed 680 and 474 Granite Staters, respectively, the CDC reported.

The point of the slide, however, is not to rank causes of death, but rather to contrast similar mortality causes and put drug deaths into perspective, according to New Futures spokesman Joe Gallagher.

“The slide does not attempt to rank drug overdoses as the second leading common cause of death in New Hampshire, nor does the slide account for all causes of death in the state,” he wrote in an email.

So, where exactly do drug overdoses stand among causes of death? It depends on how one classifies mortality rates.

While the New Futures slide breaks out different forms of cancer, for example, the CDC lumps all cancer data together and names the disease the leading cause of death in New Hampshire. All forms of the cancer killed nearly 2,700 people in the state 2014.

Heart disease followed cancer as the second leading cause of death in New Hampshire, according to the CDC data. “Accidents” – which includes things like car crashes and drug overdoses – ranked third, and left 716 people dead in 2014.

Even if one breaks out different forms of cancer and heart disease, the leading causes of death in those categories still outnumbered drug overdose deaths in 2014, according to the New Hampshire Division of Vital Records Administration.

Lung cancer was the underlying cause of 730 New Hampshire deaths in 2014. Atherosclerotic heart disease led to 687 deaths in the state that same year, according to division statistician Nicholl Marshall.

Hassan went on to cite specific conditions that drug overdoses have surpassed, including diabetes, breast cancer or motor vehicle accidents.

New Futures pointed us to data from the American Cancer Society, which shows breast cancer killed an estimated 170 Granite Staters in 2014, far fewer than the 326 killed by drug overdoses.

Diabetes killed 300 people in New Hampshire during 2014, according to the CDC, again fewer than the state’s drug deaths that year. And, finally, motor vehicle accidents accounted for 102 deaths in 2014, according to the New Hampshire office of the chief medical examiner.

Our ruling

Hassan said, “Drug overdoses are now the second-most common cause of death in New Hampshire.”

Drug deaths are a growing cause of death in the state, and have certainly outpaced car accidents, diabetes and breast cancer, the three examples Hassan cited. But overdoses are not the second leading cause of death, still falling behind heart disease, stroke and a host of other ailments.

We rate her claim False.