The 10 Worst States for the Deadly Drug Crisis
Policy + Politics

The 10 Worst States for the Deadly Drug Crisis

© STR New / Reuters

Ironically, as President Trump and members of Congress have elevated opioid addiction and drug overdoses to a top issue, the biggest problems can literally be found in the back yard of the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

A new study by the online research group WalletHub found that the District of Columbia, far and away, has a bigger drug addiction problem than any of the 50 states. In the ranking of states with the most serious drug problems, DC is followed by Vermont, Colorado, Delaware, Rhode Island, Oregon, Connecticut, Arizona, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Related: The Government Is Providing $485 Million to Fight Opioid Addiction: Here’s How Much Your State Is Getting

The District of Columbia has long been a center of illicit drug trafficking and abuse, even as the city has undergone a major demographic shift over the past couple of decades marked by massive commercial expansion, residential gentrification, a declining black population and a huge influx of wealthy businessmen, lawyers and government officials.

The WalletHub analysis shows the District of Columbia ranked first nationally in the percentage of adults who needed but didn’t receive treatment for illicit drug use in the past year and second in the percentage of teens and adults who used illicit drugs in the past month.

The city also ranked fifth in the number of substance abuse treatment facilities per 100,000 people using illicit drugs; 21st nationally in the number of drug overdose deaths per capita and 23rd nationally in the number of opioid pain-relief prescriptions per capita.

The epidemic of heroin and opioid drug addiction and fatal overdoses has ravaged the nation and spurred public demands for action at the federal, state and local level. President Trump recently announced the creation of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. He ordered it to study the scope and effectiveness of the federal response to the nationwide crisis and to come up with recommendations for improvements.

Related: How West Virginia Became Ground Zero for the Opioid Epidemic

Yet the administration prompted complaints from lawmakers on Capitol Hill with reports that Trump will seek a 95 percent reduction in funding of the National Drug Control Policy in his soon-to-be released fiscal 2018 budget. And the House-passed overhaul of the Affordable Care Act backed by the president would eliminate Medicaid coverage for drug addiction and mental health treatment.

“Given the uncertain future and lack of significant progress to date, it’s fair to wonder where drug abuse is most pronounced and which areas are most at risk in the current political climate,” wrote John S. Kiernan, senior writer and editor of WalletHub.

Many of the statistics on the drug crisis are shocking: The number of Americans who admit to ever using an illicit drug rose substantially to nearly 50 percent in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The annual number of overdose deaths have more than tripled from 17,415 in 2000 to 52,404 in 2015.

Moreover, 469,545 people were incarcerated for drug offenses in 2015 or eleven times more than were in prisons and jails for drug convictions in 1980.

Related: US Death Rate From Heroin and Opioid Abuse Rages Out of Control

While the problem was once largely confined to large, inner-city neighborhoods and metropolitan area, it now touches virtually every corner of the country, including suburban and rural areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and Southwest. National and state political leaders and government officials have made drug addiction a top priority, but the problems are manifold and resistant to easy solutions.

The illicit use of opioids, marijuana, other prescription drugs, and heroin are on the rise among both teenagers and adults, as is drug trafficking. Unscrupulous drug manufacturers and distributors have pumped hundreds of millions of prescription opioids into tiny communities in West Virginia, Kentucky and New Hampshire to foster drug addiction. And states differ in the way they treat drug addiction and trafficking, with some stepping up law enforcement efforts and arrests and others treating it more as a public health challenge,

In attempting to determine which states have the biggest drug problems and which have the least severe problems, WalletHub researchers compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia by 15 separate factors, ranging from arrests and overdose rates to opioid prescriptions and meth lab incidents per capita.

The District of Columbia emerged as the most problematic jurisdiction for drug problems in the three broad categories of drug use and addiction, law enforcement policy and drug health issues and rehabilitation.

Related: Why the GOP Plan for Medicaid Could Be a Bad Deal for the States

By contrast, ten states largely in the Midwest, Southwest and far West led by Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska ranked as having the fewest serious problems related to the drug crisis. The others are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Utah, Texas, Iowa and Alabama. 

Among other findings in the survey: New Jersey and Nevada have the highest percentage of teens who were offered or sold illicit drugs on school property, while Delaware and Virginia had the lowest. Alabama and Tennessee had the most opioid prescriptions per 100 people and New Jersey and Minnesota had the lowest.

Moreover, West Virginia and New Hampshire had the most cases of drug overdoses per capita while Iowa and Texas had the fewest. And the most drug arrests per capita were made in South Dakota and Illinois, while the fewest were in the state of Washington and Rhode Island.

Here is a summary of Wallet Hubs’s 10 worst and best states for drug problems.

Overall Rank
(1=’Biggest Problem’)
StateTotal Score‘Drug Use & Addiction’ Rank‘Law Enforcement’ Rank‘Drug Health Issues & Rehab’ Rank
1 District of Columbia 64.06 1 31 3
2 Vermont 54.97 5 46 1
3 Colorado 54.58 2 30 15
4 Delaware 54.10 23 3 7
5 Rhode Island 52.75 3 50 6
6 Oregon 51.82 10 13 10
7 Connecticut 49.49 21 40 4
8 Arizona 49.35 12 22 12
9 Massachusetts 49.31 9 48 5
10 Michigan 49.18 6 15 30

Source: WalletHub