U.S. drug overdose deaths more than quadrupled from 1999 to 2020

Oct. 9, 2023
From 1999 to 2020, drug overdoses caused 1,013,852 deaths.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine and collaborators explored trends in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2020, based on age, gender, race, urbanization and geography. Results of their original research, published in The American Journal of Medicine, show that drug overdose deaths in the U.S. more than quadrupled from 1999 to 2020, regardless of race, age, geography or urbanization.

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. 

When analyzing subgroups, researchers identified several trends. White and Native Americans or Alaskan Natives have experienced the greatest increase by race. Locations in the Midwest and non-metro areas have been impacted more than other regions.

Data from the study show that from 1999 to 2004, Appalachia (primarily West Virginia) and the Southwest (primarily Utah) had the highest death rates from opioids. Over the next five years, mortality rates in these regions increased further and new hotspots appeared in states such as Florida. From 2011 to 2016, hot spots expanded further in Appalachia and the Southwest, but disappeared in Florida, largely due to restrictions on opioid prescriptions. Thereafter, there were marked rises in potentially preventable deaths from heroin.

From 2014 to 2018, fentanyl deaths increased throughout the U.S., although to a lesser extent in the Midwest. Fentanyl has more than 50 times the potency of heroin and 100 times that of morphine. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and major cause of drug overdose, especially with the switch from pharmaceutical to illegal forms.   

Florida Atlantic University release