Painkillers Driving Addiction, Overdose

Drug poisoning is now the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. In 2017, a total of 61,311 people died from drug overdoses – many from prescription opioid medicine.

Many adults prescribed opioids by doctors subsequently become addicted or move from pills to heroin. Seventy percent of people who have misused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don’t even know that sharing opioids is a felony.

People who take opioid painkillers for too long and in doses too large are more at risk of addiction and more likely to die of drug poisoning. The numbers are staggering. A survey by the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration says there are 4.3 million nonmedical users of painkillers. Nearly 2 million people have painkiller substance use disorders.

Learn How to Help Keep Loved Ones Alive

Prescribed to Death Memorial.

National Safety Council provides answers for families, resources for employers and prescribers, and information to help keep you safe at home and in your community:

Opioids: By the Numbers

Opioid Drugs include both prescription and illicit drugs. Like heroin, opioid painkillers come from the poppy plant.

  • The majority of preventable drug overdose deaths involve opioids (70%); opioid deaths totaled 43,036 in 2017
  • Preventable opioid overdose deaths increased 14% in 2017, and 633% since 1999
  • The opioid category that includes morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone was involved in 12,255 deaths in 2017
  • The drug category most frequently involved in opioid overdoses and growing at the fastest pace is synthetic opioids other than methadone (fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol)
  • Fentanyl accounted for 26,211 preventable deaths in 2017, representing a 48% increase over the 17,696 total in 2016
  • Heroin accounted for the second highest number of deaths, claiming 14,762 lives in 2017

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According to the CDC, Provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics predicted that 68,500 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2018, compared to about 72,000 the year before. That translates to an approximately 5% reduction in overdose deaths nationwide—a small but significant step toward curbing the deadly effects of the nation’s substance abuse crisis. (

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