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Overdose Trends in the U.S.


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses were the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S. in 2019. While overdose rates peaked in 2017 and then declined the following year, those numbers increased again in 2019 when the country reached 70,000 deaths.

Recent provisional CDC data is also showing that overdose rates rose sharply between February and May 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts predict that the total overdose deaths for the year could be as high as 90,000, which is up significantly from 2019.

To put this landscape into perspective, 841,000 people have died from a drug overdose since 1999. In 2019 alone, more than 70,000 overdose deaths were reported. These rates are only increasing in most areas, especially regarding opioids and opioid combinations. Other stark figures worth mentioning are that:

  • Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury deaths in the U.S.

  • Among people aged 25 to 64, drug overdoses cause more deaths than motor vehicle accidents.

  • The total number of overdose deaths is still significantly higher than other preventable causes of death such as HIV/AIDS, car accidents, and gun deaths.

While these stats are staggering, there are ways to prevent fatal overdoses from occurring. In this article, we map out the overdose trends across the U.S. as well as provide information on how drug overdoses occur and how to prevent them.

Other current trends include:

  • The highest overdose death rates occur in individuals aged 25 to 44.

  • Studies show that over 70% of overdoses in 2019 (a total of 49,860) were due to opioid-related drugs — particularly fentanyl. These rates are up significantly from 3,442 deaths in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017.

  • Psychostimulant overdoses from drugs like methamphetamine have skyrocketed from 547 in 1999 to 16,167 in 2019.

  • Overdose deaths involving cocaine and opioid combinations have been rising steadily each year (from 3,822 in 1999 to 15,883 in 2019).

  • Anti-depressant overdose death rates increased from 1,749 in 1999 to 5,269 in 2019.

  • On a lighter note, overdose deaths related to benzodiazepines declined from 11,537 in 2017 to 9,711 in 2019.

  • Heroin overdose deaths also declined somewhat from 15,469 in 2016 to 14,019 in 2019 (this could be partly due to the rise in fentanyl use).

  • Between 2018 and 2019, the largest increase in death rates involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl occurred in the western United States (67.9%).

  • In 2019, the biggest increase in overdose death rates involving psychostimulants like meth occurred in the northeast United States (43.8%).


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