Blog & News
After drop in 2018, newer data indicate a resurgence in drug overdose deathsAugust 26, 2020:
While new SHADAC research found small but statistically significant declines in opioid and drug overdose death rates during 2018, newer data indicate those reductions may have been short-lived. Overall, in 2018, drug overdose death rates declined 4.6 percent as compared to the prior year, but our analysis also found variation in amounts and direction of changes in individual types of drugs. For instance, overdose death rates from prescription opioids dropped 14.7 percent and those from heroin dropped 3.8 percent, but overdose death rates from synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) increased 9.6 percent and those from psychostimulants (e.g., methamphetamine) grew 22.1 percent.
Provisional data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show evidence of an increase in overall drug overdose deaths in 2019, as well as for certain individual types of drugs. During a rolling 12-month period ending in December 2019, drug overdose deaths reached a record high of 70,980—a 4.6 percent increase over the 12-month period ending in December 2018.1 And among the states, 36 of 50 saw increases in their reported drug overdose deaths. In that same amount of time, overdose deaths from synthetic opioids increased 15.8 percent and overdose deaths from psychostimulants increased 26.8 percent.
The state of Minnesota also recently published its own preliminary data on drug overdose deaths in 2019, finding similar patterns to the U.S. After experiencing a decline in drug overdose deaths in 2018, Minnesota reported that preliminary data showed a 20 percent increase in overall drug overdoses in 2019—in addition to synthetic opioid overdose deaths that increased by 48 percent, and psychostimulant overdose deaths that grew by 37 percent.2
Some reports also indicate that drug overdose deaths may have spiked in early 2020, coinciding with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and various associated stressors. For example, a White House analysis found an 11.4 percent increase in overdose deaths in the first four months of 2020 as compared to the prior year.3 In the midst of the COVID-19 emergency, experts such as those from the National Academy of Medicine have raised concerns that “the nation is experiencing an unprecedented convergence of epidemics, and there is great concern that the opioid crisis…may only worsen in the absence of a concerted response.”4
As new data on drug overdoses become available in the coming months and years, it will be vital to monitor the continually shifting dynamics of the opioid crisis, to identify early the emerging patterns—such as the rise of synthetic opioids and psychostimulants—and to continue to guide policy efforts to address the persistent public health emergencies of substance use and drug overdose deaths.
Explore SHADAC's most recent analysis of the Widening Drug Overdose Crisis in the United States or visit our Opioid Epidemic Resources page to access all opioid-related analysis done by SHADAC researchers over the last several years.
1 Ahmad, F.B., Rossen L.M., & Sutton, P. (2020). Provisional drug overdose death counts [National Center for Health Statistics report]. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
2 DeLaquil, M., Giesel, S., & Wright, N. (n.d.). Preliminary 2019 drug overdose deaths: A return to the states’ overall trend [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/opioids/documents/2019prelimdeathreport.pdf
3 Ehley, B. (2020, July 2). Pandemic unleashes a spike in overdose deaths. Politico. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/29/pandemic-unleashes-a-spike-in-overdose-deaths-345183
4 National Academy of Medicine. (2020). Mapping our impacts. Available from https://nam.edu/programs/action-collaborative-on-countering-the-u-s-opioid-epidemic/mapping-our-impact/