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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

More than three out of five 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 and heroin, have increased by more than five times since 1999. Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, and 40% of those deaths were from prescription opioids.2

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

Featured Article

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 Insurers

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.

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  1. Hedegaard H, Warner M, Miniño AM. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 294. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017/ CDC. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2016. Available at
  2. Seth P, Scholl L, Rudd RA, Bacon S. Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids, Cocaine, and Psychostimulants – United States, 2015-2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. March 2018. 67(12);349–358.