Data Overview

Overview of the Drug Overdose Epidemic: Behind the Numbers

Drug overdose deaths, including those involving opioids, continue to increase in the United States. Deaths from drug overdose are up among both men and women, all races, and adults of nearly all ages.1

Two out of three drug overdose deaths involve an opioid.1 Opioids are substances that work in the nervous system of the body or in specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. Overdose deaths from opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) have increased almost six times since 1999.2 Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 47,000 people in 2017, and 36% of those deaths involved prescription opioids.3

See the Data

Learn more about the Data Sources that CDC uses to track the drug overdose epidemic in the United States.

An empty syringe alongside a small bag of powder and pills.

Prescription Drug Coverage for Treatment of Low Back Pain Among US Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Commercial Insurersexternal icon

Medicare, Medicaid and major private insurers can do more to combat the opioid epidemic. While utilization management strategies were common for opioids, many non-opioids were also subject to utilization management. Insurers have the opportunity to redesign coverage policies to improve pain management and reduce opioid-related injuries and deaths.


  1. Hedegaard H, Miniño AM, Warner M. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2017. NCHS Data Brief, no 329. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
  2. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2018. Available at
  3. Scholl L, Seth P, Kariisa M, Wilson N, Baldwin G. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths – United States, 2013-2017. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 21 December 2018.
CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain