Substance Misuse and Overdose Deaths are on the Rise

2 min read · 3 sections

Startling Statistics About Substance Misuse and Overdose Deaths

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases monthly provisional counts for drug overdose deaths each month. For the 12-month period ending in March 2023, there were 105,224 drug overdose deaths reported in the United States.1 Unfortunately, overdoses have become the leading injury-related cause of death in the country.2 Sometimes an overdose is intentional, meaning the individual purposely tried to inflict self-harm, and sometimes an overdose may be the result of an accidental, unintended consequence of taking a substance that may have been adulterated with another substance, such as fentanyl.3

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more potent than morphine, was implicated in the death of former U.S. swimming champion Jamie Cail, who died earlier this year in St. John, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Just this week, authorities named her cause of death to be accidental fentanyl intoxication.4 Regardless whether an overdose is intentional or unintentional, it can cause life-threatening symptoms and death.

In 2021:5

  • There were more than 106,000 deaths from drug-involved overdoses. More than 70,000 of those deaths involved synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) and over 16,000 of those deaths involved prescription opioids.
  • Cocaine-involved overdose deaths accounted for nearly 25,000 of all drug-related deaths.
  • Other psychostimulants (primarily methamphetamine) contributed to more than 32,000 drug-related overdose deaths.

Combating Substance Misuse and Overdose

parent holding hands with teen

Substance use and overdose deaths are challenges that continue to plague every state in the country. Synthetic opioids, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl continue to contribute to the majority of opioid-involved overdose deaths. To save lives from drug overdose, the CDC launched four campaigns targeted at 18 to 34-year-old adults. The campaigns aim to educate these individuals about the dangers of fentanyl, the risks associated with mixing drugs, how to reverse an opioid overdose with naloxone, and reducing the stigma associated with drug overdoses.6

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than 58 million fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills in all 50 states in 2022. What’s more, 6 out of 10 of these pills contained at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a lethal dose of the substance.7

Additionally, mixing substances—intentional or not—increases the risk of overdose. The effects of combining drugs can make the effects of each substance stronger and more unpredictable than using one drug alone. Depending on the substance, some drugs can actually mask the effects of the other, tricking you into thinking you’re not feeling the effects of either substance and making you take more of one or both drugs, increasing the risk of overdose.8

The most common symptoms associated with an opioid overdose include:9

  • A decreased level of consciousness or unresponsiveness.
  • Small, constricted pinpoint pupils.
  • Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing.

Other opioid overdose symptoms include:9,10

  • Pale, blue, or clammy skin.
  • A limp body.
  • Purple or blue lips or fingernails.
  • Vomiting, choking, or making gurgling noises.
  • A slowed or undetectable pulse.

If you suspect that someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and administer a dose of naloxone (if available). Naloxone is a life-saving opioid overdose treatment medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose and restore an individual’s breathing. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, a medication that attaches to opioid receptors to reverse and block the ongoing effects of an opioid agonist, like fentanyl. Naloxone comes in two FDA-approved forms—an injectable solution and a nasal spray.11

After administering the naloxone, roll them on their side to prevent choking and remain with them to monitor their breathing until medical personnel arrives.11

Finding Hope and Treatment in Dark Times

Opioid addiction is a treatable disease and recovery is possible, but stigma surrounding drug use and addiction remains a significant barrier to treatment for many.6 If you or a loved one struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you’re not alone. Showing compassion for people who use drugs can help reduce the shame and stigma that individuals may feel when seeking help. You can help loved ones find help by calling American Addiction Centers (AAC) at . Talk to one of our knowledgeable admissions navigators, who can listen to your story, answer your questions, explain our treatment options, verify your insurance (you can also fill out the form below), and help you begin your recovery journey.

AAC offers multiple levels of care. Depending on your specific needs, you may find help in inpatient treatment, residential, intensive outpatient programs, or standard outpatient. Your doctor, mental healthcare provider, or addiction treatment specialist can help inform your treatment plan. All of our programs also offer aftercare planning to give you a solid foundation in recovery as you transition from one level of care to another.

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