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Drug Addiction Mortality Rates (Risk Of Death)

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 26, 2019

Today, drug addiction is responsible for more deaths than any other health condition. 1 out of every 4 deaths in the US is connected to tobacco, alcohol, prescription, or illicit drug use. Since the year 2000, drug use mortality rates have tripled and continue to get worse.

U.S. Drug Deaths: 2000-2016

In 2000, just under 20,000 people died from using drugs. Ten years later, in 2010, almost 40,000 people died. The most recent data, from 2016, shows over 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in that year alone.

Drug use mortality rates have steadily increased every year since 2000. Since 2012, there has been a dramatic increase in overdose fatalities involving opioids. Synthetic opioids (fentanyl), pain relievers, and heroin are mostly responsible for the deadly spike.

2015-2016 Death Increases By State

Several states saw a significant increase in drug use mortality rates from 2015 to 2016. The number of states that reported higher mortality rates is staggering and includes:

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia (D.C.)
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Over half of all the states in the U.S. saw a significant increase in overdose deaths. The top five states with the highest increases in death include West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.

While data is still being collected for 2016-2017, the rise in mortality rates across the United States is disturbing, and trends suggest numbers will continue to rise before they get better.

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What Drugs Cause The Most Deaths?

Each year, the National Center for Health Statistics collects data for the CDC (Center for Disease Control). Based on mortality rates for 2016, the data suggests the following drugs caused the most deaths in the United States:

  • Synthetic Opioids: 20,145
  • Heroin: 15,446
  • Natural and Semi-synthetic Opioids: 14,427
  • Cocaine: 10,619
  • Methamphetamine: 7,663

Synthetic Opioids (Fentanyl)

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid prescribed for severe pain after surgery but is also illegally manufactured and sold on the streets. Far more potent than morphine, just a small amount of fentanyl can kill a person. The risk of death is increased when people unknowingly take fentanyl, which is often laced with heroin, increasing the risk of overdose and death.


Heroin-related overdose deaths have steadily increased in recent years, contributing to a ¼ of all drug-related deaths in 2016. The risk of overdose death is increased when heroin is injected because large amounts of the drug, and any other contaminants, enter the bloodstream immediately in full force.

Natural And Semi-Synthetic Opioids

These pain-relieving opioids include hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxycodone (Oxycontin), morphine, and codeine. The risk of death is high for prescription opioids because many people develop a dependency, which means they need the drug to function. Misusing prescription opioids can lead to death because taking too much in one large dose can stop breathing, the main cause of death during an overdose.


Although death rates associated with cocaine decreased between 2007 – 2012, they are once again on the rise. The risk of a fatal cocaine overdose is increased when the drug is injected or mixed with other drugs like heroin.


Methamphetamine abuse may lead to risky behaviors, adverse health conditions, and overdose. A methamphetamine overdose can cause stroke, heart attack, and organ problems, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Drug Addiction And Risk of Death

In a study conducted by the American Public Health Association, researchers found that people diagnosed with drug dependence will die, on average, around 20 years earlier than people who don’t use drugs. People diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) are even more likely to die earlier.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that requires the same attention and care as any other disease. To combat the high risk of death associated with drug addiction, which only seems to get worse, effective treatment remains the top solution for reducing death and mortality among people suffering from addiction.

Addiction Treatment Can Save Lives

Abstinence, or refraining from using drugs, is the best way to avoid a drug-related death. However, stopping the use of drugs can be difficult for a person to do on their own. Addiction treatment can help a person stop using drugs with a medically supervised detox program, which ensures the person is safe and comfortable during the worst of withdrawal.

Once a person is drug-free, they can begin further treatment. Further addiction treatment is likely to include a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Medication can reduce drug cravings and help a person engage in treatment. Behavioral therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment and works to teach a person the life skills needed to remain sober after treatment.

Call now for more information on addiction treatment, and find help before it’s too late.

Center for Disease Control - Drug Overdose Death Data

The Drug Policy Alliance - Synthetic Opioids Fact Sheet

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Health Consequences of Drug Misuse: Death

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

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