Behind the Numbers

Two ambulances and a police car are parked in a driveway.

Overdose Deaths

No one should die from overdose. These deaths are preventable. In 2022, overdose deaths reached record highs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were 107,941 deaths in 2022. This is a slight increase from 2021. These are not just numbers; they are lives. This should not be the new normal. They are our loved ones: our families, our friends, our neighbors. Criminalization is driving the overdose crisis. Yet, many elected officials continue to fail our communities by calling for ineffective punitive policies as a response to the crisis. Elected officials must prioritize a health-based approach instead.

Criminalization drives the overdose crisis. What you need to know.

  • There were 107,941 overdose deaths in 2022.
    • Overdose deaths increased slightly from 2021 to 2022.
    • In 2022, overdose deaths have risen in most states and Washington D.C.
  • The unregulated, unpredictable drug supply is due to drug crackdowns and enforcement.

  • Criminalization is increasing overdose deaths and making the crisis worse.

    • Incarceration kills. Drug and alcohol overdose deaths have more than doubled in jails and prisons.
    • People are 27 times more likely to die from overdose within two weeks of release from incarceration compared to the general population.
    • Fear of arrest can deter people from asking for help during an overdose emergency.
    • Despite harsh penalties for all fentanyl-related substances since 2018, overdose rates have increased across the U.S.
    • In 2022, all states except one (Oregon) criminalized low-level drug possession, and all states criminalized drug sales. Despite this fact, overdose rates have increased.
  • Despite an urgent need for a health-based approach to the overdose crisis, there are barriers to proven interventions.
    • Fear of federal interference is a barrier for many jurisdictions that want to establish overdose prevention centers.
    • Harm reduction programs are under attack across the nation, and state and federal funding available to community-based harm reduction providers is scarce.
    • Medications for opioid use disorder reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while cutting overdose risk in half. But they are difficult to access due to strict regulations and stigma.
      • Methadone is very difficult or impossible to access in most parts of the country. It is the only medication in the nation that can only be dispensed at specialty clinics that require near-daily attendance and have strict rules for compliance.
      • Buprenorphine can be challenging to access because only a small minority of healthcare providers choose to prescribe it to patients. In addition, many people face barriers including cost, insurance coverage, and pharmacy access.

Frequently Asked Questions

Imagine of a man and his mom on his graduation day.

I lost my son, my only child, Jeff, to an overdose. Criminalization didn’t save him. Punitive drug laws have resulted in nothing but more imprisonment, more deaths, and more devastated families. We need health-based solutions to save our loved ones.”

Denise Cullen, LCSW, Co-Founder, Broken No More

Health-based Solutions to the Overdose Crisis

Overdose deaths are preventable. Any overdose death is a policy failure. Given the magnitude of the crisis, our elected officials must prioritize health-based policies that can prevent overdose deaths and save lives.

The Drug Policy Alliance is working to pass federal and state legislation that would remove barriers to effective interventions, monitor overdose trends, support research, and allocate much-needed funding to support life-saving overdose prevention programs.

Learn more about the solutions:

  • Overdose prevention centers. These facilities are designed to reduce the potential risks of drug use, including overdose and unwanted public use. They also connect people with addiction services and social supports, including treatment.
  • Evidence-based treatment. There are a variety of treatment options, including psychosocial treatment, medications for opioid use disorder such as methadone and buprenorphine, and contingency management.
  • Harm reduction. Interventions include drug checking (like fentanyl and xylazine test strips), naloxone (a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose), drug education, and syringe exchange services that keep people from contracting infectious diseases.
  • Safer supply. Drug prohibition has created an unregulated drug supply that is unpredictable. The opposite of this would be to offer a safe supply where people know exactly what’s in their drugs and its potency.
A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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