National Vital Statistics System

Modernizing Drug Death Data

NCSH Data Map

Improving the Timeliness and Quality of Drug Mortality Data and the Interoperability of State Electronic Death Registration Systems

Project Goals

Transmission of death information to NCHS within 10 days of date of event for at least 80% of death events

Transmission of at least 90% of drug overdose deaths to NCHS within 90 days of death events

Transmission of death information to state Injury Surveillance Systems within two business days after receipt of the cause of death code from NCHS

Because mortality data can help support public health strategies in so many ways, finding tools and methods to better collect that information and exchange it more easily is a priority, especially when it comes to addressing the latest public health emergency: the opioid crisis.

To help data about drug overdose deaths flow more fluidly from the local to the national level and vice versa, CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) received funding through the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fundexternal icon for a project designed to improve the quality and timeliness of mortality data.

Connecting people to connect systems

As part of this project, entitled Modernizing the Infrastructure for Capturing Drug Death Data and Enhancing Research on Opioid Poisoning using Death Certificates’ Literal Text Field, an implementer’s community was created to develop, test, pilot, and track the progress of new and more interoperable approaches to sharing important mortality data.

This implementer’s community brings together medical examiners and coroners who certify drug overdose deaths, personnel from state vital records offices that register the deaths, CDC staff who produce official national statistics, IT experts, mortality data users, health information and technology experts, and federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders. Representatives from six states—California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, and New York—are part of the collaborative team.

The goal is for the implementers’ community members to learn from each other, test new approaches to interoperability, and demonstrate how standards-based technologies and techniques can be reused across the country to help our collective investments go further. The project will identify and coalesce information from toxicology lab systems, electronic medical records systems, prescription drug monitoring programs, and other data systems that medical examiners and coroners rely on every day to help them to determine and report cause of death.

Sharing the vision through collaboration

To help forward this goal across our nation, NCHS recently funded 10 additional states to examine the business practices and technology associated with the collection and exchange of drug-involved mortality information in their states.

These 10 states are working toward improving the timeliness and quality of drug mortality data and the interoperability of state electronic death registration systems: Washington DC, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The plan is for the results produced in the first year by the six Implementer’s states to be piloted in of some of the 10 states over the second year of the project.

The national goal is to promote a standards-based approach that will improve the electronic exchange of mortality information, both within states and between states and NCHS. Faster, better data exchange will allow us to improve and expand how we use mortality data to monitor health and save lives.

Project Updates

What People Are Saying

“This work is critically important. Think about how increasing the timeliness of data will impact what we are able to do with mortality data, from public health programs to drug enforcement to making critical programmatic policy decisions. Delivering these vital statistics in a more efficient way can play a crucial role in making that information count where it’s needed most.”

–          Delton Atkinson, former director, CDC Division of Vital Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics

“I was so pleased to participate in the Implementer’s Community to discuss how technology can be used to support timelier mortality data. What we discussed has the potential to inform several CDC data collections, including SUDORS, and uses information from forensic toxicology tests and medical examiner and coroner reports to inform prevention and response efforts. It was exciting to hear and see how committed everyone is to using data and cutting-edge IT developments to inform our response to the opioid overdose epidemic.”

–          Christine Mattson, health scientist overseeing activities for the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), CDC Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

“We remain committed to this great work. The nation’s forensic science laboratories and medical examiner/coroner offices generate the vast majority of the data that federal agencies need to be able to make educated policy and funding decisions. The better coordinated we are with our federal partners, such as CDC, the easier it is for our members to provide this data and get back helpful information from epidemiologists, researchers, and statisticians to shape our state and local operations, policies, and statutes.

“We have learned through the opioid crisis how dependent federal law makers and policymakers are on the data being generated in state and local labs and medical examiner/coroner offices. We have also learned how critical data sharing is in making and enforcing law, death investigation, interdiction, and treatment strategies. Forensic science service providers are a critical component in this process and are extremely grateful to the CDC for their interest in improving these data systems. We look forward to even more collaboration on this initiative.”

–          Matthew Gamette, President, American Society of Crime Lab Directors

“Our intent is to reduce or eliminate the interoperability challenges found today within our data collection systems by identifying a scalable, standards-based mortality collection system through a range of technologies to better manage the complexity of mortality data, resulting in an enhanced mortality reporting ecosystem. End result: bolstering our nationwide capacity to detect, prevent, and contain emerging health threats.”

–          Stephen Wurtz, State Registrar and Director, New Hampshire Department of State, Division of Vital Records Administration

Page last reviewed: August 25, 2021