The Opioid Overdose Crisis

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Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

6. Deaths from Drug Overdose in the United States in 2015

"During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. There has been progress in preventing methadone deaths, and death rates declined by 9.1%. However, rates of deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (likely driven primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl) (2,3), increased sharply overall and across many states."

Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:1445–1452. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm655051e1
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volum...
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volum...

7. Deaths Attributed to Drug Overdose in the US, 2017

According to the Centers for Disease Control, using data available for analysis on September 5, 2018, there were a reported 70,652 deaths attributed to drug overdose in the US for the year ending December 2017. Some deaths were still under investigation. The CDC projects that the total for 2017 will be 72,222.

Of these:
Opioids were detected in 47,863 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 49,031 deaths.
Synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, were detected in 28,644 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 28,644 deaths.
Heroin was detected in 15,585 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 15,941 deaths.
Natural and semi-synthetic opioids were detected in 14,553 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 14,940 deaths.
Cocaine was detected in 14,065 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 14,612 deaths.
Psychostimulants with abuse potential were detected in 10,420 reported deaths, and are predicted to be involved in 10,703 deaths.
Methadone was detected in 3,209 reported deaths, and is predicted to be involved in 3,286 deaths.

Note: Categories are not mutually exclusive because deaths may involve more than one drug.

Ahmad FB, Rossen LM, Spencer MR, Warner M, Sutton P. Provisional drug overdose death counts. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control. 2018. Last accessed September 13, 2018.
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/...

8. Opioid Involvement in Deaths in the US Attributed to Drug Overdose, 2016

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, in 2016, there were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in the United States. The CDC further estimates that of those, 42,249 deaths involved any opioid.

The CDC reports that in 2016, 15,469 deaths involved heroin; 14,487 deaths involved natural and semi-synthetic opioids; 3,373 deaths involved methadone; and 19,413 deaths involved synthetic opioids other than methadone, a category which includes fentanyl. The sum of those numbers is greater than the total opioid involved deaths because, as noted by the CDC, "Deaths involving more than one opioid category (e.g., a death involving both methadone and a natural or semisynthetic opioid such as oxycodone) are counted in both categories."

Hedegaard H, Warner M, Miniño AM. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 294. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017.
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/produ...
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/...
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/...

9. Key Factors Underlying Increasing Rates of Heroin Use and Opioid Overdose in the US

"A key factor underlying the recent increases in rates of heroin use and overdose may be the low cost and high purity of heroin.45,46 The price in retail purchases has been lower than $600 per pure gram every year since 2001, with costs of $465 in 2012 and $552 in 2002, as compared with $1237 in 1992 and $2690 in 1982.45 A recent study showed that each $100 decrease in the price per pure gram of heroin resulted in a 2.9% increase in the number of hospitalizations for heroin overdose.46"

Wilson M. Compton, M.D., M.P.E., Christopher M. Jones, Pharm.D., M.P.H., and Grant T. Baldwin, Ph.D., M.P.H. Relationship between Nonmedical Prescription-Opioid Use and Heroin Use. N Engl J Med 2016; 374:154-163. January 14, 2016. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1508490
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/1...

10. Factors in the Transition from Prescription Opiate Use to Heroin Use

"Multiple studies that have examined why some persons who abuse prescription opioids initiate heroin use indicate that the cost and availability of heroin were primary factors in this process. These reasons were generally consistent across time periods from the late 1990s through 2013.34-41 Some interviewees made reference to doctors generally being less willing to prescribe opioids as well as to increased attention to the issue by law enforcement, which may have affected the available supply of opioids locally.38,40"

Wilson M. Compton, M.D., M.P.E., Christopher M. Jones, Pharm.D., M.P.H., and Grant T. Baldwin, Ph.D., M.P.H. Relationship between Nonmedical Prescription-Opioid Use and Heroin Use. N Engl J Med 2016; 374:154-163. January 14, 2016. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1508490
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/1...
http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10...

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