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How Many People Die From Drugs Each Year?

We see on the news how many lives have been lost to heroin or fentanyl. We can read about how many people die due to alcohol related accidents or illnesses. But is there a way to know how many people die each year from drug use in general? This article focuses on the death of the person using the drug, as well as other lives lost because of drug use.

In 2015, 27.1 million people aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users. Around 138.3 million currently drank alcohol. Drugs and alcohol affect individuals, families, the workplace and society. The toll on America’s economy is staggering. A yearly annual economic impact of $442 billion from the misuse of prescription drugs, illicit drugs or alcohol.2

How Many People Die From Drug Abuse and Overdoses?

In 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths (19,447 females and 32,957 males). Overdose figures include:

  • Unintentional drug poisoning
  • Suicide drug poisoning
  • Homicide drug poisoning
  • Drug poisoning of undetermined intent

When considering mortalities associated with drug abuse, look at the big picture. Drug-related deaths are overdoses or poisonings Yet drug- or alcohol-induced accidents also account for thousands of deaths every year.

Drug trafficking is directly connected to violent fatal crimes, deadly spousal and child abuse, and infant mortality.

Drug Overdose Data

  • Methadone-related death rates declined by 9.1% in 2015.
  • Deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids, increased sharply. This was most likely due to synthetic fentanyl. 3
  • In 2015, the four states with the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3), Kentucky (29.9) and Ohio (29.9).4

Specific Drug Overdose Deaths: 2015

  • Heroin was involved in 25% of drug overdose deaths with 12,982 deaths. An increase from 3,036 deaths in 2010. 5,6
  • Natural and semisynthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone accounted for 24% of overdose deaths. A decrease from 29% in 2010. 5
  • Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol were responsible for 18% of overdose deaths in 2015. This added up to 9,580 deaths, a significant increase from 2010. 4,6
  • Overdose deaths involving methadone decreased from 12% of overdose deaths in 2010 to 6% in 2015. This added up to 3,285 deaths. 4,6
  • Cocaine-related overdose deaths increased from 4,283 deaths (11%) in 2010 to 6,784 deaths (13%) in 2015.4,6
  • Overdose deaths involving stimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased from 5% in 2010 to 11% in 2015. 4
  • Benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths increased to 8,791 in 2015, a rise from 6,497 in 2010.6

Drug-Related Deaths on the Road

  • A 2009 study found that 18% of drivers killed in a crash tested positive for at least one drug.
  • A 2010 nationwide study of deadly crashes found an estimated 47% of drivers who tested positive for drugs used a prescription drug. This is compared to 37% who used marijuana and about 10% who used cocaine.
  • The most common prescription drugs linked with deadly crashes were pain relievers. The same year, more than 25% of drugged drivers in deadly crashes were at least 50 years old. 7

Drug-Related Violence

Drug-related murders, often tied to gang activity, increased in the past two years after falling for two decades. In 2015, they accounted for one in 25 murders in big cities. In 2016, the Chicago Police Department blamed gang violence for 764 murders. This equaled to about 30.5 murders related to drugs based on 2015 statistics. And Chicago is not an anomaly. In 2016, murders increased in 34 of the cities tracked by The Economist. Three were experiencing greater spikes in murder rates than Chicago.8

Drug-related deaths are not always tied to gang activity. A plethora of stories about drug deals gone bad are published in newspapers across the country. Many of these stories ending in murder. In 2005, after serving time in prison for gun possession, Christopher Wilkins drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth. Police linked him to several aggravated assaults and burglaries.

He befriended two men, 40-year-old Willie Freeman and 33-year-old Mike Silva. The men tricked him into paying $20 for a piece of gravel he thought was a rock of crack cocaine. Wilkins said he shot Freeman on Oct. 28, 2005, for laughing about the scam, then shot Silva because he was there. The 48-year-old Wilkins was executed in January 2017 for the deaths of two men over that $20 phony drug deal.9

On May 17, 2013, Ricardo Lorenzo Macias Jr., Sonia Bautista and Brianna Garay went to Jose Castañon’s El Paso home to buy Ecstasy when an altercation broke out. The three suspects beat Castañon to death with a cookie jar over a drug deal gone bad.10

Drug-Related Infant Mortality

It is a well-known fact that pregnant women who drink alcohol subject their unborn infants to a host of health problems. One of these problems could befetal alcohol syndrome. When women use cocaine, heroin or methadone during pregnancy, babies also have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 11

Opiate use in pregnancy has increased dramatically during the past decade. Women are using prescription opioids, illegal opioids and opioid substitution therapy. These drugs not only pose serious risks to the mother’s health, but also are tied to significant neonatal complications. This could cause an increased risk of mortality and neonatal abstinence syndrome. 12

Tragically, infants can lose their lives at the hand of drug-addicted parents. Such was the case of a 25-year-old U.K. woman who used heroin, Valium and alcohol before killing her 4-month-old son when she knocked a large television on to his head. The youngster suffered catastrophic brain injuries, dying the day after the incident. The woman and the child’s 41-year-old father were clearly unfit to care for their son. The father was passed out on the kitchen floor in a drug-related stupor at the time of the incident. An inquest revealed a long history of drug abuse and violence, especially on the part of the father. 13

Drugs not only take a toll on those who use them, but have dire consequences on society as a whole. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is the innocent children who are victimized by drug abuse. Many lose their lives accidentally or intentionally, due to the behavior of their drug-abusing parents.

Posted on June 1, 2017 and modified on April 29, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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