Opioid-Related Drug Overdoses in the United States


A new study from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that in 2017, more than two-thirds (67.8 percent) of drug overdose deaths involved opioids. Synthetic opioids significantly contributed to overdose death, with synthetic opioid-related mortality increasing 45.2 percent between 2016 and 2017. A recent National Vital Statistics Report (PDF—.34 MB) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, between 2011 and 2016, the top 10 drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths included five opioids: fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, and oxycodone.

To address this public health crisis, steps can be taken to target both the prevention and treatment of opioid-related overdoses. An opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights lessons learned from Canada, which has implemented drastic policy changes to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

In April 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory that advocated for increased education about and access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also recently developed guidance (PDF—.68 MB) on the importance of prescribing naloxone and providing education about its use.

However, barriers to widespread access to and use of naloxone remain, as described in the Health Affairs blog post “Meeting the Opioid Challenge: Getting Naloxone to Those Who Need it Most.” This item suggests that strategies to increase distribution should focus on the populations most likely to benefit and on ensuring affordability.

Resources related to the prevention and treatment of opioid-related overdoses include: