University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

Mapping Drug Overdose Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics in the Community

Brenda L. Rooney, PhD, MPH; Mitchell T. Voter; Christopher M. Eberlein, MD; Andrea J. Schossow; Cathy L. Fischer, MA, ELS

WMJ. 2018;117(1):18-23.

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Introduction: Drug use and drug overdose have increased at an alarming rate. Objective: To identify demographic and neighborhood social and economic factors associated with higher risk of overdose. These findings can be used to inform development of community programs and appropriately devote resources to prevent and treat drug abuse.

Methods: The electronic health records of all patients seen in the emergency department or admitted to the hospital for a drug overdose in 2016 at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, were reviewed retrospectively. Patient data collected included age, sex, race/ethnicity, insurance type, overdose intention (intentional, unintentional), drug involved, and total charge for the episode of care. Patient residence was geocode mapped to census tract to analyze the relationship of drug overdose to neighborhood characteristics. Overdose rates were calculated by census tract and compared by several sociodemographic characteristics.

Results: Four hundred nineteen patients were included in this study. Forty percent of overdoses were unintentional. Patients who were older, male, nonwhite, and who had no insurance were more likely to have unintentional overdoses. Opiates and heroin were most commonly present in unintentional overdoses, whereas benzodiazepines and sedatives were more common in intentional overdoses. Patients living in census tracts with a higher percentage of residents with some college also had a higher rate of unintentional overdose. Rates of overdose at the census tract level varied and were higher in tracts with lower median income, low income inequality ratio, high percentage of college attendance, and higher percentage of nonwhite residents. The average charge per overdose was $14,771 (median = $9,497) and totaled $6,188,923 for the year.

Conclusions: This study provides demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic detail about drug overdose in the community that can be used to focus future treatment and prevention interventions.


Author Affiliations: Department of Community and Preventive Care Services, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis (Rooney); Department of Emergency Services, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis (Voter, Eberlein); Department of Corporate Research, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis (Schossow); Department of Medical Research, Gundersen Medical Foundation, La Crosse, Wis (Fischer).

Corresponding Author: Brenda L. Rooney, PhD, MPH, Mail Stop IRC-004, Gundersen Health System, 1900 South Ave, La Crosse, WI 54601; phone 608.775.2152; fax 608.775.5887; email

Funding/Support: None declared.

Financial Disclosures: None declared.