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By Keegan Hamilton 

Drug-related deaths have surged in recent years amid America’s opioid epidemic, but a new study of U.S. mortality rates suggests the problem is even worse than previously thought due to widespread misreporting of cause of death by doctors.

Deaths caused by drugs, alcohol, and mental illness increased by nearly 200 percent over the last three decades, and 127 counties experienced massive spikes of 1,000 percent or more, according to research published this month in the medical journal JAMA. The authors of the study developed a way to more accurately track drug-related deaths, which are sometimes misclassified on death certificates.

“It’s staggering,” said Dr. Abraham Flaxman, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “It doesn’t even sound right: 1,000 percent — that’s a tenfold increase.”

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