Drug Overdose

There were 107,600 overdose deaths in 2021—a nearly 15% surge from the record numbers we saw in 2020. Most of these deaths are preventable, but the "tough on crime" rhetoric of the decades-long drug war and the stigma associated with drug use have blocked the widespread adoption of life-saving overdose prevention and treatment policies.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is leading the national effort to reduce drug overdose deaths by promoting sensible, evidence-based solutions at the state and federal level.


Overdose Trends

  • Drug overdose deaths reached an all-time high of 107,600 Americans in 2021.
  • Nearly 75% of all overdoses involved opioids, 66% involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl and analogues, 31% involved methamphetamines, 23% involved cocaine, 13% involved prescription opioids, and 18% involved heroin.
  • Overdose deaths increased in all states in 2020 except South Dakota, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Vermont had the highest increase with 64.7% more deaths than 2019.
  • Treatment and support for drug use became difficult for many people to access in 2020 due to COVID-19-related restrictions, but overdoses started increasing in late 2019 and in early 2020, even before the pandemic.

See more data from the CDC.

Signs of a Drug Overdose

Overdoses and other drug-related medical emergencies are far more common than most people think – but they do not have to be lethal. Learn the signs of what an overdose looks like for some commonly used drugs (alcohol, MDMA, cocaine and other stimulants, and heroin/opioids) and what actions you can take to help save someone’s life.

View the fact sheet.

Voices from the Front Lines of the Drug War: Denise Cullen

Denise Cullen, co-founder and board member of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) and Broken No More, became an outspoken advocate for drug policy reform after losing her son, Jeff, to an overdose in 2008.

Housing and the Overdose Crisis

The drug war has seeded ineffective and inhumane housing policies on drug use, which make it possible for landlords to evict people who use drugs. Eviction increases the risk of overdose death and causes homelessness. These policies hurt people and do not make communities stronger or healthier.

Learn more about how the drug war invades our homes at UprootingTheDrugWar.org.

Evidence-Based Solutions Save Lives

Evidence-based harm reduction and treatment interventions are cost effective, save lives, and deliver critical resources and information to people most at risk of experiencing an overdose. 

DPA is working to pass federal and state legislation that would remove barriers to effective harm reduction and treatment interventions, monitor overdose trends, support research on overdose and potential solutions, and allocate much-needed funding to support life-saving overdose prevention programs.

Learn more about the solutions:

  • Methadone and buprenorphine are widely recognized as the gold standard treatments for opioid use disorders.
  • Naloxone is an inexpensive, generic drug that works to reverse an opioid overdose by restoring breath to unconscious overdose victims.
  • Overdose prevention centers, also called supervised consumption services or safe injection facilities, are legally sanctioned health care centers where people can use pre-obtained drugs in a safe, clinical setting.
  • Harm reduction is a set of ideas and interventions that seek to reduce the harms associated with both drug use and ineffective, racialized drug policies.   
Drug Overdose