Drug Overdose Deaths: Facts & Figures


The number of U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2017.
The number of Americans with a substance abuse disorder in 2017.
The percentage of total overdose deaths caused by opioids.

Every year, the number of drug overdose deaths in America increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016, 64,070 people died from drug overdoses. That is a 21% increase from last year alone. Bloomberg reported that for every 100,000 residents, nearly 20 died from drug overdoses.  While some states have higher rates than others, it is undeniable that substance abuse is a critical concern for public health. The following map shows the total number of overdose deaths in 2016 by state:

Drug-Related Deaths

Over the past two years alone, the total drug-related deaths in the country has increased by over 100%. The use of illicit drugs has also risen, and millions of people across the nation have used some kind of drug in their lifetime. The following graph displays the numbers of drug-related deaths over the past 19 years.

Approximately 75% of all drug overdose deaths are now caused by opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and dangerous synthetic versions like fentanyl. Here are the number of deaths by drug use in 2016:

The CDC also reported that the year’s 64,070 drug deaths outnumbered motor vehicle deaths in 2015 (35,092), AIDS-related deaths at its peak in 1995 (50,628), homicides at its peak year in 1991 (24,703) and suicides in 2015 (44,193).

Because drugs are causing so many deaths, life expectancy in the United States is dropping. According to a 2017 report by the CDC, an American born in 2016 could expect to live 78.6 years on average, down from 78.7 the year before. However, life expectancy isn’t falling for women — just for men. Life expectancy for women at birth is 81.1 years, compared to 76.1 years for men. Research shows that black men have the highest death rate amongst all racial/ethnic groups.

The Danger of Opioids

The most deadly drugs are prescription opioids, by far, which explains the United States’ unrelenting opioid epidemic. In 2016, 116 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. Over the last 25 years, the number of dispensed opioid prescriptions has risen dramatically. From 1991 to 2013, the number of dispensed prescriptions increased from 76 million to 207 million, which is a 272% increase [X]. These drugs can cause serious addiction and mental health problems.

The opioid problem in America is a true crisis; in fact, opioid-related deaths accounted for over 75% of drug-related deaths. The following graphs the number of opioid-related deaths in comparison to total drug-related deaths over the past decade:

Fentanyl, in particular, is contributing significantly to the opioid epidemic. Synthetic opioids are becoming increasingly popular, considering the potency and affordability. Here are the numbers of overdose deaths related to heroin, fentanyl and opioid pain relievers in 2016.