Data Overview

The Drug Overdose Epidemic: Behind the Numbers

More than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose.1 Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid.2 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 involving opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), have increased almost six times since 1999.1 Overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, and 32% of those deaths involved prescription opioids.2

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

See the Data

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

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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. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. Available at
  2. Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, et al. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths—United States, 2017-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:290-297.
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