U.S. Overdose Deaths Stabilizing, Leaving Experts Hopeful

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May 18, 2023 – The surge in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. during the first 2 years of the pandemic appears to have stabilized, according to newly released figures from the CDC.  

Overdose deaths in 2022 totaled an estimated 109,680 people, which is 2% more than the 107,573 deaths in 2021, according to the figures. But the The 2022 total is still a record for the third straight year.

Public health officials are now in a hopeful position. If the 2022 data represents a peak, then the country will see deaths decline toward pre-pandemic levels. If overdose deaths instead have reached a plateau, it means that the U.S. will sustain the nearly 20% leap that came amid a deadly increase in drug use in 2020 and 2021.

“The fact that it does seem to be flattening out, at least at a national level, is encouraging,” Columbia University epidemiologist Katherine Keyes, PhD, MPH, told The Associated Press. “But these numbers are still extraordinarily high. We shouldn’t suggest the crisis is in any way over.”

The newly released figures from the CDC are considered estimates because some states may still send updated 2022 information later this year.

Although the number of deaths from 2021 to 2022 was stable on a national level, the picture varied more widely at the state level. More than half of U.S. states saw increases, while deaths in 23 states decreased, and just one – Iowa – had the same number of overdose deaths in 2021 and 2022.

The states with the highest counts in 2022 were:

  • California: 11,978 deaths
  • Florida: 8,032 deaths
  • Texas: 5,607 deaths
  • Pennsylvania: 5,222 deaths
  • Ohio: 5,103 deaths

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol, account for most drug overdose deaths, according to a December 2022 report from the CDC. 

State officials told The AP they believe the plateau in overdose deaths is in part due to educational campaigns to warn the public about the dangers of drug use, and from expanded addiction treatment as well as increased access to the overdose-reversal medicine naloxone.