Research finds more people die after smoking drugs than injecting them

NEW YORK – Smoking drugs has surpassed injecting as the leading cause of overdose deaths, according to a new government study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls its research the largest to look at how Americans took the drugs that killed them. 

Researchers not only found more people died from smoking than injecting, but that percentage is increasing dramatically. Between 2020 and late 2022, the percentage of overdose deaths with evidence of smoking rose 74% while those with evidence of injection fell 29%.

In late 2022, of the deaths for which a method was identified, 23% died after smoking, 16% after injections, 16% after snorting and 14.5% after swallowing. Compare that to 2020 when 23% were from injection, 15% from ingestion, 14% from snorting and 13% from smoking.

“Routes of drug use have implications for overdose risk, infectious disease transmission, other comorbidities, and harm reduction services,” researchers wrote.

Fentanyl was the drug involved most often, with the highly potent synthetic opioid responsible for 70% of deadly overdoses in 2022.

In response to these findings, some areas have adapted harm reduction services, incorporating safer smoking supplies and establishing health hubs to better reach those using noninjection routes. Researchers also recommend more messaging specific to smoking drugs, along with substance use disorder treatment being integrated into health care and public safety settings.