How Many People Die From Drugs Each Year?

In 2015, 27.1 million people aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users and 138.3 million currently drank alcohol.

  • Of those, an estimated 20.8 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year, including 7.7 million people with an illicit drug use disorder and 15.7 million with an alcohol use disorder.1
  • That means an estimated 77% of illicit drug users become addicted and about 5.6% of alcohol drinkers develop dependence.
  • Drugs and alcohol affect individuals, families, the workplace and society. The toll on America’s economy is staggering, with 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, one needs to look at the big picture. In the strictest sense, drug-abuse-related deaths are overdoses or poisonings, although drug- or alcohol-induced accidents also account for thousands of deaths every year. Moreover, drug trafficking is directly connected to violent fatal crimes, deadly spousal and child abuse, and infant mortality.

Overall Drug Overdose Data

  • Methadone-related death rates declined by 9.1% in 2015.
  • Deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids (other than methadone), increased sharply overall and across many states, 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, a statistically significant 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, with 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, with 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 psychostimulants with abuse potential, such as methamphetamine, increased from 5% in 2010 to 11% in 2015.4
  • Benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths increased to 8,791 in 2015, a statistically significant rise from 6,497 in 2010.6

Toll of Drugs on the Nation’s Roads

  • 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, 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, in many cases 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 attributed the escalation of gang violence to 764 murders, which would equate 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, with three 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, with many ending in murder. In 2005, after serving time in prison for gun possession, Christopher Wilkins drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth, where police linked him to several aggravated assaults and burglaries.

He befriended two men, 40-year-old Willie Freeman and 33-year-old Mike Silva, who 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, most notably fetal alcohol syndrome. When women use cocaine, heroin or methadone during pregnancy, babies also have a significantly higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).11 Opiate use in pregnancy has increased dramatically during the past decade with women 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, such as 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 was high on a cocktail of 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, losing their lives accidentally or intentionally, due to the behavior of their drug-abusing parents.

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