Deaths from Drug Overdoses Rise Significantly

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In 2014, overdose deaths numbered 47,055, approximately one and a half times as many deaths as from motor vehicle crashes, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December 2015.1 For the nation, the 2014 death rate from drug overdoses is significantly higher than the rate in 2013 and since 2000 has more than doubled.

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. in a December 2015 press release. “The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and
communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders.”2

The national death rate from drug overdoses rose from 13.8 per 100,000 in 2013 to 14.7 per 100,000 in 2014, a 6.5 percent rate increase.3

  • Rates increased significantly for both sexes, for people age 25–44 years, and for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks.4
  • In three regions of the country—the Northeast, the Midwest and the South—rates also increased significantly. The death rate did not change significantly in the West region between 2013 and 2014.5
  • The five states with the largest increase in the rate of overdose deaths between 2013 and 2014 were North Dakota (125 percent), New Hampshire (73.5 percent), Maine (27.3 percent), New Mexico (20.8 percent) and Alabama (19.7 percent).6

Seven more states had statistically significant rate increases and another 22 posted rate increases, however the year-over-year change was not statistically significant. No state had a statistically significant decline in drug overdose death rates.7 

The number of 2014 drug overdose deaths ranged from 4,521 in California to 43 in North Dakota. More than 1,000 people died in 18 states and more than 2,000 people died in six of those states—California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and New York.

  • More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any previous year on record, according to CDC.
  • In just 15 years, from 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million Americans have died from drug overdoses. 
  • Drug overdose deaths, related both to prescription drugs—including opioid pain relievers—and illicit drugs have increased each year since 2000.9

After 20 years of research, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University recommended in the December 2015 “Guide for Policymakers” three policies that can make a

  • Overdose prevention programs that widely distribute naloxone have shown that the effect of opioid overdose can be reversed and death prevented. The guide cites a systematic review that showed use of naloxone by nonmedical bystanders averted death in the vast majority of cases in which it was used.
  • Medication-assisted treatment, known at MAT, allows a physician to prescribe buprenorphine within an office setting. Studies have found that a significant number of people are more likely to seek such treatment than methadone treatment, which usually requires daily visits to a clinic to receive methadone. Access to MAT could be expanded if more physicians provided the treatment and if federal law was changed to increase the numbers of patients a single physician could treat.
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs are in place in all states except Missouri. After Florida implemented their monitoring program, oxycodone-related deaths fell by 25 percent. The impact remained even after controlling for other factors such as tamper-resistant packaging, enforcement crackdowns and other relevant regulations.11
  • In March 2015, Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced a federal initiative to reduce drug overdoses, deaths and dependence that focused on the same three policies.12

1 Rose A. Rudd, MSPH; Noah Aleshire, JD; Jon E. Zibbell, PhD; R. Matthew Gladden, PhD. “Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths—United States, 2000–2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Dec. 18, 2015.
2 CDC Newsroom. “Press Release: Drug overdose deaths hit record numbers in 2014.” December 18, 2015, 2:00 p.m.
3 Rudd, et al.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 National Center on Health Statistics, CDC WONDER.
10 The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. “Guide for Policymakers: Prevention, Early Intervention and Treatment of Risky Substance Use and Addiction.” December 2015.
11 Ibid.
12 HHS Press Office. “HHS takes strong steps to address opioid-drug related overdose, death and dependence.” March 26, 2015. 

Deaths from Drug Overdoses Rise Significantly