Special Report

Counties With the Worst Drug Problem in Every State

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Colorado: Huerfano County
> Annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents, 2015-2019: 59 (state: 18)
> Total drug-related deaths, 2015-2019: 20 — 25th most out of 64 counties (state: 5,072)
> Poverty rate: 15.8% — 16th highest out of 64 counties (state: 10.3%)
> Huerfano County population: 6,679

Huerfano County, Colorado, is south of Pueblo and just north of the state’s southern border with New Mexico. The area reported 59 drug deaths per 100,000 residents each year from 2015 to 2019, by far the highest rate of any county in the state and the 21st highest in the entire country. This is nearly triple the comparable nationwide drug death rate of 21 per 100,000.

Areas that struggle economically tend to have a higher incidence of drug overdose deaths. Huerfano County reported a median annual household income of less than $39,000, well below the Colorado median household income of $72,331.

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Connecticut: Windham County
> Annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents, 2015-2019: 38 (state: 30)
> Total drug-related deaths, 2015-2019: 221 — 7th most out of 8 counties (state: 5,295)
> Poverty rate: 11.4% — 2nd highest out of 8 counties (state: 9.9%)
> Windham County population: 116,566

All but one of the eight counties in Connecticut have an annual drug overdose death rate that is lower than the national rate of 21 deaths a year per 100,000 people. Many people who are addicted to drugs are also diagnosed with other mental disorders. The opposite is also true. Chronic use of some drugs can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Adults in Windham County report an average of more mentally unhealthy days per month than residents of other counties.

Accidental drug overdose is currently among the leading causes of death for Americans under 50, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocating for drug policy reform. Windham County’s premature death rate is the highest in the state, with 337 deaths before the age of 75 per 100,000 residents. In comparison, the second highest premature death rate in Connecticut is 309 per 100,000 in New London County.

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Delaware: New Castle County
> Annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents, 2015-2019: 37 (state: 35)
> Total drug-related deaths, 2015-2019: 1,045 — the most out of 3 counties (state: 1,689)
> Poverty rate: 11.4% — 2nd highest out of 3 counties (state: 11.8%)
> New Castle County population: 556,165

All three counties in Delaware have relatively high rates of annual drug deaths, but New Castle County has the highest rate at 37 drug deaths per 100,000 people. The county, which makes up the northern part of the state, is home to the majority of the state’s population.

Unlike nearly every other county with the worst drug problem in its state, New Castle County is relatively prosperous economically. Its November 2020 4.8% unemployment rate compares to a national 6.4% rate. It also has by far the highest median household income among Delaware counties at $73,892 — $11,000 higher than the U.S. median and $5,600 higher than the Delaware median.

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Florida: Brevard County
> Annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents, 2015-2019: 40 (state: 23)
> Total drug-related deaths, 2015-2019: 1,188 — 8th most out of 67 counties (state: 24,153)
> Poverty rate: 11.8% — 53rd highest out of 67 counties (state: 14.0%)
> Brevard County population: 585,507

Of the 67 counties in Florida, Brevard has the highest rate of age-adjusted drug overdose deaths at 40 per 100,000 residents, nearly double the statewide rate of 23 overdose deaths per 100,000.

Florida performs similarly compared to the country as a whole in socioeconomic factors such as poverty and unemployment. Brevard County performs slightly better than the state as a whole. The annual household income in the county is $56,775 a year compared to the state median of $55,660, and the unemployment rate is 5.3%, compared to 6.3% across the state.

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Georgia: Haralson County
> Annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents, 2015-2019: 28 (state: 14)
> Total drug-related deaths, 2015-2019: 41 — 38th most out of 159 counties (state: 7,462)
> Poverty rate: 14.9% — 121st highest out of 159 counties (state: 15.1%)
> Haralson County population: 29,227

Haralson County is due west of Atlanta, along the Georgia border with Alabama. The area reported 28 drug deaths per 100,000 residents, double the annual rate of drug deaths in the state.

Drug overdoses are one of the leading causes of death for Americans under 50, and areas with higher addiction rates tend to have very high premature death rates. Haralson County is no exception, reporting 575 deaths before age 75 per 100,000 residents — one of the highest premature death rates in Georgia, and well beyond the U.S. rate of 340 per 100,000 people.