Opioid Overdose Prevention Saves Lives
When we act early, we can prevent the use and misuse of drugs, like opioids, that can lead to substance use disorders.
Substance use disorders, like opioid use disorder (OUD), have significantly impacted communities across America. Prevention activities help educate and support individuals, families, and communities and are critical for maintaining both individual and community health.
Opioid use disorder and overdoses are preventable
Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), sometimes referred to as “opioid abuse or dependence” or “opioid addiction,” is a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress. OUD is a medical condition that can affect anyone – regardless of race, gender, income level, or social class. Like many other medical conditions, evidence-based treatments are available for OUD, but seeking treatment remains stigmatized. Stigma can be a major barrier to how well prevention and treatment programs work against the opioid crisis.
Stigma or the fear of stigma may stop someone from sharing their health condition with partners or family members. It may also prevent them from seeking the health or behavioral health services and support services they need. People who experience health-related stigma may also experience less access to healthcare, delayed diagnosis of a condition, and reduced adherence to treatments. Learn more about what you can do to reduce stigma.
OUD significantly contributes to overdose deaths among people who use illegal opioids or misuse prescription opioids. Opioids—mainly synthetic opioids like illegally made fentanyl are currently the main cause of overdose deaths.
A recent study among 29 states and the District of Columbia showed the percentage of overdose deaths involving counterfeit pills more than doubled from July 2019 to December 2021, and more than tripled in the Western United States. These pills are dangerous because they typically appear as pharmaceutical pills but often contain illegally made fentanyl and illegal benzodiazepines or other drugs, with or without people’s knowledge.
For every overdose that results in death, there are many more nonfatal overdoses, each one with its own emotional and economic toll. OUD and overdose deaths continue to be a major public health concern in the United States, but they are preventable.
People can help reduce the risk of counterfeit pill overdose by:
- Only taking pills prescribed to them
- Being aware that pills bought illegally might contain highly potent drugs
- Using fentanyl test strips (FTS), small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables)
- Overdoses are the leading injury-related cause of death in the United States and appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In 2021, nearly 107,000 people died from drug overdoses, a 16% increase from the approximately 92,000 overdose deaths in 2020.
- Among the 2021 overdose deaths, more than 75% involved an opioid.
- Research shows that people who have had at least one overdose are more likely to have another.
- In 2020, an estimated 41.1 million Americans needed substance use disorder treatment, but only 2.6 million people with a substance use disorder in the past year received treatment.
On August 31 of each year, International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is recognized globally as a day to remember and grieve those that we’ve lost, take action to encourage support and recovery, and help end overdose by spreading awareness about drug overdose prevention.
Join us as an IOAD partner by using your voice and platforms to spread messages about ending overdose. Check out our partner toolkit which includes free resources such as key IOAD messages, social media content, and patient and provider educational materials, to spread the word about ending overdose.
Promising prevention strategies
The best ways to prevent opioid overdose are to improve opioid prescribing, reduce exposure to opioids, prevent use and misuse, and treat opioid use disorder. There are strategies that can help prevent overdose and support the health and well-being of communities.
- Promote and support the use of the CDC Clinical Practice Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Pain.
- Increase and maximize use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for controlled substances and can help improve opioid prescribing, inform clinical practice, and protect those at risk.
- Learn about the risks of prescription opioids and about the help and resources that are available for someone who may be struggling with opioid use disorder. See CDC’s Rx Awareness Campaign for shareable resources and information on improving awareness.
- Treat opioid use disorder by increasing access to substance use disorder treatment services, including Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD). Recovery is possible.
- Reverse overdose by expanding access to naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdose, for community members (family members and neighbors) and service providers (i.e., first responders).
- Help communities put effective practices to work where opioid use disorder is common, including using evidence-based strategies [PDF]
If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, talk to your doctor or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or go to SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator