Drug Overdoses Remain a Huge Problem in the U.S.

by James Brown

Updated October 20, 2023


Discover the Latest Overdose Statistics & Find Out What Can Be Done to Lower Drug-Related Deaths Going Forward.

Today’s newspapers are often filled with stories about local drug overdose deaths.

The issue has continued to be a major problem in both urban and rural areas of the country. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that over 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, a significant increase from the 72,000 deaths in 2019.

That was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year, and it represents a 29.4% increase from the previous year. But since then, the numbers have only gotten worse, not better.

A total of 98,268 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, which was a 17.6% increase from the previous record, According to The National Safety Council.

As for 2022 numbers, they are not officially available yet, but an estimated 79,117 Americans died from drug overdoses between January and September 2022, according to the Commonwealth Fund.That number was 50 percent higher than pre-2020 levels, the Commonwealth Fund said.

Why Are Drug Overdoses Continuing to Rise?

The majority of drug overdose deaths involve synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, which is a potent synthetic opioid that is often added to other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

In 2020, synthetic opioids were involved in over 60% of overdose deaths.

Additionally, many overdose deaths involve stimulants, such as methamphetamine. This type of drug overdose death increased by over 34% in 2020, and overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by over 26%.

It is important to note that these statistics may not capture the full extent of the overdose crisis, as many overdoses are not reported or may be misclassified. However, they do indicate the severity of the crisis and the urgent need for effective prevention and treatment strategies.

Why Are Opioids So Dangerous?

Opioids are highly addictive and deadly for several reasons, including:

Opioids bind to specific receptors in the brain that are involved in regulating pain and reward. When opioids bind to these receptors, they activate the brain's reward pathways, which can lead to feelings of euphoria and pleasure. This can create a powerful reinforcement cycle, where the brain learns to associate opioid use with pleasure and rewards.

Over time, the brain can become tolerant to the effects of opioids, meaning that higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief or euphoria. Additionally, with repeated use, the body can become physically dependent on opioids, meaning that withdrawal symptoms occur when the drug is stopped.

Opioids can be deadly because they can suppress the respiratory system, causing breathing to slow down or stop altogether. This can lead to hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) and brain damage, which can be fatal.

The opioid epidemic in the United States has been driven in part by the rise of illicitly manufactured opioids, such as fentanyl, which are often mixed with other drugs and sold on the black market. These drugs are highly potent and can be deadly even in small doses.

Despite the high rates of opioid addiction and overdose, there are still significant barriers to accessing effective treatment, including medication-assisted treatment and counseling. This can make it difficult for individuals struggling with opioid addiction to recover and can increase their risk of overdose.

Are There Any Drugs Beside Opioids That Play a Major Role in Overdose Deaths?

Yes, psychostimulants are also a significant factor.

Psychostimulants are drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, increasing alertness, attention, and energy. Examples of psychostimulants include cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. These drugs can be dangerous for several reasons, including:

Psychostimulants can be highly addictive, leading to a cycle of drug use, tolerance, and withdrawal. With repeated use, individuals may require higher doses to achieve the same level of euphoria or alertness, increasing the risk of addiction and overdose.

Psychostimulants can significantly affect the cardiovascular system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and risk of heart attack or stroke. Additionally, long-term use of psychostimulants can damage the neurological system, leading to cognitive and motor impairments.

The use of psychostimulants can lead to risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex or driving under the influence, which can have severe consequences for individuals and their communities.

Psychostimulants can impair judgment and decision-making, leading individuals to engage in risky behaviors, including drug use.

Illegal psychostimulants, such as cocaine, are often adulterated with other substances, such as fentanyl or other opioids, which can increase the risk of overdose and other adverse effects.

Here are some recent psychostimulant statistics:

In 2019, there were approximately 1.2 million emergency department visits related to psychostimulant use in the United States, an increase of 25% from 2014

From 2015 to 2019, the number of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants increased from 3,079 to 16,167 in the United States.(Source CDC)

These statistics highlight the significant impact of psychostimulant use in the United States, including the risks of addiction, overdose, and adverse health effects.

What Can Be Done to Lower Drug Overdoses in the Future?

Addressing the high number of drug overdoses requires a comprehensive approach that includes a range of prevention, treatment, and harm reduction strategies. Here are some potential steps that can be taken:

Efforts to prevent drug overdoses should focus on reducing the demand for drugs, particularly opioids and other prescription medications. This can be done by promoting non-pharmacological pain management options, educating healthcare providers on safe prescribing practices, and reducing the availability of prescription medications through increased monitoring and regulation.

Harm reduction strategies aim to reduce the negative consequences of drug use without necessarily requiring abstinence. This can include distributing naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, providing safe injection sites, and offering drug-checking services to help people identify the presence of dangerous contaminants in illicit drugs.

Treatment options for substance use disorders should be accessible, affordable, and evidence-based. This can include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines medications such as buprenorphine or methadone with counseling and behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management.

Increased funding for substance abuse treatment and harm reduction efforts can help support the implementation of these strategies on a larger scale.

Educating the public about the risks of drug use and the availability of effective prevention and treatment options can help reduce stigma and increase awareness of available resources.

Addressing social determinants of health, such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare, can help reduce the risk factors for drug use and overdose.

These are just a few potential strategies that can be taken to address the high number of drug overdoses.

Ultimately, a comprehensive approach that involves collaboration across multiple sectors, including healthcare, public health, law enforcement, and social services, is needed to effectively address this complex public health crisis.
Article by
James Brown
Hello,I'm James, an editor at BeWellFinder, where I'm dedicated to sharing my expertise to provide you with valuable insights.

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