Alarming surge: Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. quadruple from 1999 to 2020

U.S. drug overdose deaths quadrupled over a one-year period, from 1999 to 2020, according to a new report in The American Journal of Medicine. 

Florida Atlantic University researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics. They found that from 1999 to 2020, drug overdoses caused 1,013,852 deaths. The rates increased 4.4 times from 6.9 per 100,000 in 1999 to 30 per 100,000 in 2020. In addition, researchers noted that from May 2022 to May 2023, the U.S. experienced its highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded in any 12-month period. 

White and Native Americans or Alaskan Natives experienced the greatest increase by race. The Midwest and non-metro areas have also been impacted more than other regions, although Appalachia (primarily West Virginia) and the Southwest (primarily Utah) had the highest death rates from opioids from 1999 to 2004.

To fight the overdose epidemic, study authors encourage widespread distribution and availability of naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. As Emily’s Hope previously reported, a naloxone product, Narcan, is now available over-the-counter. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the significant move in March, and Narcan became available in select stores and online without a prescription this month.

“Public health authorities should collaborate with federal, state and judicial systems to treat patients who have drug use disorders in the same way as patients who have a serious chronic disease to avoid premature death,” said study co-author Dr. Charles H. Hennekens in a statement. “Death is inevitable, but premature death is not.”