Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet
Drug: Any chemical compound used for the diagnosis or treatment of disease or injury, for the relief of pain, or for the feeling it causes. A drug is either a pharmaceutical (including both prescription and over-the-counter products) or illicit.
Overdose: When a drug is eaten, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body. Overdoses are either intentional or unintentional. If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to cause harm, then it is unintentional.
Misuse or abuse: The use of illicit or prescription or over-the-counter drugs in a manner other than as directed.2
Deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States.1 Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs.2 Nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs.3
- Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2010. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.1
- Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992 with a 102% increase from 1999 to 2010 alone.1
- In 2010, 30,006 (78%) of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (14%) of suicidal intent, and 2,963 (8%) were of undetermined intent.1
- In 2011, drug misuse and abuse caused about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits. Of these, more than 1.4 million ED visits were related to pharmaceuticals.2
- Between 2004 and 2005, an estimated 71,000 children (18 or younger) were seen in EDs each year because of medication overdose (excluding self-harm, abuse and recreational drug use).4
- Among children under age 6, pharmaceuticals account for about 40% of all exposures reported to poison centers.5
Most Common Drugs involved in Overdoses
- In 2010, of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,134 (60%) were related to pharmaceuticals.6
- Of the 22,134 deaths relating to prescription drug overdose in 2010, 16,651 (75%) involved opioid analgesics (also called opioid pain relievers or prescription painkillers), and 6,497 (30%) involved benzodiazepines.6
- In 2011, about 1.4 million ED visits involved the nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals. Among those ED visits, 501,207 visits were related to anti-anxiety and insomnia medications, and 420,040 visits were related to opioid analgesics.2
- Benzodiazepines are frequently found among people treated in EDs for misusing or abusing drugs.2 People who died of drug overdoses often had a combination of benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics in their bodies.6
- In the United States, prescription opioid abuse costs were about $55.7 billion in 2007.7 Of this amount, 46% was attributable to workplace costs (e.g., lost productivity), 45% to healthcare costs (e.g., abuse treatment), and 9% to criminal justice costs.7
- Between 1998-2002, people who abused opioid analgesics cost insurers $14,054 more than the average patient.8
Among those who died from drug overdose in 2010:
- Men were nearly twice as likely as women to die;
- American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest death rate, followed by whites and then blacks;
- The highest death rates were among people 45-49 years of age; and
- The lowest death rates were among children less than 15 years old because they do not abuse drugs as frequently as older people.1
Among people who misused or abused drugs and received treatment in emergency departments in 2011:
- 56% were males;
- 82% were people 21 or older.2
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wide-ranging OnLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) [online]. (2012) Available from URL: http://wonder.cdc.gov/mortsql.html.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. The DAWN Report. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Available from URL: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN127/sr127-DAWN-highlights.htm
- Paulozzi LJ. Prescription drug overdoses: a review. Journal of Safety Research, 2012; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2012.08.009
- Schillie SF, Shehab, N, Thomas, KE, Budnitz DS. Medication overdoses leading to emergency department visits among children. Am J Prev Med 2009;37:181-187.
- Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR, Green JL, Rumack BH, Dart RC. 2011 Annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 29th annual report. Clin Tox 2012;50:911-1164.
- Jones CM, Mack KA, Paulozzi LJ. Pharmaceutical overdose deaths, United States, 2010. JAMA 2013;309:657-659.
- Birnbaum HG, White AG, Schiller M, Waldman T, Cleveland JM, and Roland CL. Societal costs of prescription opioid abuse, dependence, and misuse in the United States. Pain Medicine 2011; 12: 657-667.
- White AG, Birnbaum HG, Mareva MN, Daher M, Vallow S, Schien J, & Katz N. Direct costs of opioid abuse in an insured population in the United States. Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy 2005; 11(6): 469-479
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC)
4770 Buford Hwy, NE
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC–INFO