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Drug Overdose Statistics in 2023: A Complete Guide | Boca Recovery Center

Due to high rates of drug overdose, policymakers are working with healthcare professionals and communities to improve access to evidence-based strategies and treatments to lower these numbers. These stats also help to identify high-risk populations, geographical hotspots, and specific substances contributing to overdose rates. With current data, we can better target prevention and harm-reduction efforts.

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If you use drugs, overdose is always a possibility. The latest drug overdose statistics in 2023 illustrate the scope of the problem in the U.S. For over 100,000 Americans annually, a drug overdose is a fatal event.

Key Facts About Drug Overdose 

These key facts about drug overdose highlight the scope of the problem:[1-3]

Key Facts

  • Drug overdose is a leading cause of injury-related death worldwide, surpassing mortality rates associated with traffic accidents or homicides.
  • Drug overdose is a significant global health issue, affecting people of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Opioids, including prescription painkillers and illicit substances like heroin, contribute to a significant proportion of drug overdose cases even though people often start using these substances with a doctor’s approval. 
  • Naloxone has quickly become an invaluable weapon against opioid overdose deaths. Increased access to naloxone will save lives.

National Overdose Statistics

These statistics show how drug overdose is a nationwide problem:

overdose-statistics
  • According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 93,331 drug overdose deaths took place over the 12 months ending September 2020, setting a record high.[4] 
  • In 2021, there were 70,601 overdose deaths related to the use of synthetic opioids (excluding methadone). Most of these were due to fentanyl. Some users seek out fentanyl for its potent high, while many people have it unknowingly laced into other drugs they are purchasing on the street.[5]
  • Drug overdose death rates have flattened in 2022 and 2023 after increasing between 2019 and 2021.[6]
  • Overdose death rates vary considerably by region. West Virginia consistently has one of the highest drug overdose death rates nationwide. In 2021, the state ranked highest for drug overdose fatalities, recording 90.9 deaths per 100,000 population as its peak overdose death rate.[7]

Which States Are Seeing Rapid Increases in Drug Overdose Rates?

Drug overdose trends vary by state, and several have experienced rapid increases in drug overdose deaths since 2013. Some states that are impacted particularly hard by opioid use disorder (OUD) have experienced markedly greater increases than average, such as these states:[7]

West Virginia

West Virginia consistently has the highest drug overdose death rate in the U.S. Opioids play an outsized role in driving this issue in the state. 

Ohio

Ohio has also been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and they’ve seen substantial spikes in overdose deaths in recent years. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s rise in drug overdose deaths has largely been due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Kentucky

Kentucky has also had an increase in fatal opioid-related overdoses.

Which Demographics Are Hardest Hit by Drug Overdose?

The drug overdose epidemic impacts people across all demographic groups, but certain populations have been disproportionately affected. Demographic groups who are most severely affected by the drug overdose crisis include the following:[8-12]

Young to Middle-Aged Adults

This age group consistently shows higher rates of drug misuse and deaths related to opioid overdose. In this age range, white and American Indian men are most affected.

Men

Men have long had much higher rates of drug overdose deaths compared to women. But this gap has narrowed in recent years, as rates of female drug overdose have risen. Women are just as likely as men to develop substance abuse issues, however.

Lower Socioeconomic Status

People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more vulnerable to drug abuse and overdose. This includes those living in poverty, unemployed people, and those with limited access to healthcare

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

People living with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk for substance misuse and overdose. Many risk factors for substance abuse and mental health disorders overlap, and treating co-occurring disorders is more complex.

Rural Populations

Certain geographic areas have higher rates of drug overdose due to factors like drug availability and trafficking routes as well as limited access to addiction treatment services. In addition, certain areas have more limited access to emergency medical care, including access to life-saving drugs like naloxone. Rural areas have seen particular increases in overdose deaths due to a combination of these factors.

Which Substances Are Driving Overdose the Most?

While synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are the primary force behind the high number of drug overdose deaths, many other drugs contribute. In many cases of fatal overdose, multiple drugs have been taken, and polysubstance abuse is always linked to a higher overdose risk.

These are the main drugs that lead to drug overdose:[1,13-17]

Opioids

Opioids have long been the primary driver behind fatal opioid overdoses in the U.S. This includes prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone as well as illicit opioids like heroin. Opioids slow the central nervous system, triggering respiratory depression that can be fatal. 

In 2022, there were 79,770 opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S. 

Synthetic Opioids

Fentanyl and its analogs are significantly contributing to the total number of overdose deaths in the U.S. In 2022, out of approximately 107,000 overdose deaths in the U.S., over two-thirds were attributed to synthetic opioids (excluding methadone). Most of these were due to illegally manufactured fentanyl, taken both directly or laced into other drugs. Almost 88% of opioid-related overdose deaths are linked to synthetic opioids. 

Stimulants

Cocaine and methamphetamine both impact cardiovascular functioning and can lead to fatal cardiac events. In 2021, there were 32,537 overdose deaths related to stimulant use, primarily meth use.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium can lead to fatal overdose when combined with other substances, such as alcohol or synthetic opioids. In 2021, benzodiazepines were involved in 12,499 fatal overdoses.

What Is Being Done to Address the Drug Overdose Epidemic?

Action is being taken on multiple levels to curb the drug abuse and overdose epidemic in the U.S. These are the major initiatives:[18-25]

Prevention & Education

Public health organizations, community groups, and government agencies are taking proactive steps in prevention and education initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the risks of substance use disorder as well as encouraging responsible prescribing practices. Prevention programs target schools, workplaces, and communities to educate everyone regarding substance abuse’s consequences. 

Prevention and early intervention efforts are the most cost-effective way to address substance abuse and overdose. 

Access to Treatment

Expanding access to evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders is a top priority, including access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), counseling, and behavioral therapies. Through both government funding and private initiatives, efforts are underway to broaden available treatment options and remove barriers like affordability and availability that impede care delivery. 

Every $1 spent on addiction treatment can save more than $4 in healthcare expenses and more than $7 in criminal justice expenses.

Harm Reduction Strategies

Harm reduction approaches are being employed in an attempt to mitigate risks associated with drug use, including widespread distribution of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone to first responders and community members. Needle exchange programs, safe injection sites, and outreach services can also potentially minimize disease transmission as well as provide support services to individuals taking drugs.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are electronic databases that monitor the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances by healthcare providers. These systems can detect overprescribing and patterns of misuse, allowing for earlier intervention. PDMPs help to curb excessive availability and misuse of prescription drugs, which fuel opioid use disorders.

Interagency Collaboration

Law enforcement agencies have started working in concert with public health departments in an attempt to combat drug trafficking, break supply chains, and target high-risk areas. 

Policy Changes

Governments have implemented policy reforms in response to the drug epidemic. This includes revising sentencing laws and increasing funding for addiction treatment and prevention programs as well as supporting harm reduction initiatives. Policymakers are exploring alternative solutions, such as diversion programs and treatment-focused interventions for nonviolent offenders.

A Path Forward

Positive change in the drug overdose epidemic requires a multidimensional strategy that enables healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies, policymakers, and communities to work together. With the flattening of fatal drug overdose rates in 2022 and 2023, there is hope that rates will continue to decline going forward.

Treatment is the best way to avoid overdose when you are dealing with a substance use disorder. Without comprehensive addiction treatment, it’s unlikely that you can stop drug use on your own, and the risk of overdose is always present with continued substance abuse. Reach out for help today and remove the risk from your life.

Updated November 14, 2023
Resources
  1. Drug overdose deaths - Health, United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 2022. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  2. Socioeconomic risk factors for fatal opioid overdoses in the United States: Findings from the Mortality Disparities in American Communities Study (MDAC). Altekruse SF, Cosgrove CM, Altekruse WC, Jenkins RA, Blanco C. Genberg BL, ed. PLOS ONE. 2020;15(1):e0227966.
  3. Preventing opioid overdose with peer-administered naloxone: findings from a rural state. Hanson BL, Porter RR, Zöld AL, Terhorst-Miller H. Harm Reduction Journal. 2020;17(1).
  4. Products - Vital Statistics Rapid Release - Provisional Drug Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published May 2023. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  5. Drug overdose death rates. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 30, 2023. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  6. Dr. Rahul Gupta released statement on CDC’s new overdose death data showing a full year of flattening overdose deaths. The White House. Published July 12, 2023. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  7. Drug overdose mortality by state. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 1, 2022. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  8. Demographic and geographic variation in fatal drug overdoses in the United States, 1999–2020. Monnat SM. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 2022;703(1):50-78.
  9. Sex and gender differences in substance use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published April 2020. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  10. Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Published 2021. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  11. Socioeconomic marginalization and opioid-related overdose: A systematic review. van Draanen J, Tsang C, Mitra S, Karamouzian M, Richardson L. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2020;214:108127.
  12. Opioid misuse in rural America. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published 2019. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  13. Provisional data shows U.S. drug overdose deaths top 100,000 in 2022. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published May 18, 2023. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  14. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl–involved overdose deaths with detected xylazine — United States, January 2019–June 2022. Kariisa M. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2023;72.
  15. Evolving trends in drug overdose mortality in the USA from 2000 to 2020: an age-period-cohort analysis. Sayuri Fujita-Imazu, Xie J, Bibha Dhungel, et al. EClinicalMedicine. 2023;61:102079-102079.
  16. U.S. drug overdose deaths more than quadrupled from 1999 to 2020. Florida Atlantic University. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  17. Acute and chronic effects of cocaine on cardiovascular health. Kim S, Park T. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2019;20(3):584.
  18. Cost benefits of investing early in substance abuse treatment. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the President. Published 2012. Accessed October 23, 2023.
  19. Preventing substance abuse in adolescents: A review of high-impact strategies. Hsiung H, Patel K, Hundal H, Baccouche BM, Tsao KW. Cureus. 2022;14(7).
  20. Facing addiction in America: The Surgeon General's report on alcohol, drugs, and health - Early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use Disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published November 2016. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  21. A scoping review of opioid harm reduction interventions for equity-deserving populations. Milaney K, Haines-Saah R, Farkas B, et al. The Lancet Regional Health – Americas. 2022;12.
  22. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 23, 2021. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  23. Advocacy in action: Ending the overdose epidemic. American Medical Association. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  24. Understanding the epidemic | CDC’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 17, 2021. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  25. Evidence on strategies for addressing the opioid epidemic. Phillips JK, Ford MA, Bonnie RJ. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Health Sciences Policy; Committee on Pain Management and Regulatory Strategies to Address Prescription Opioid Abuse. Published 2018.
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