Death by Overdose

Overdose deaths from substance abuse involving methamphetamines, cocaine and most recently opioids, have been growing exponentially for nearly forty years, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in a report recently published in the journal Science.

Middle-aged Americans overdose on different drugs than younger people in their twenties, the researchers found while analyzing accidential poisoning deaths listed in the vital statistics systems. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, heroin and other opioids have contributed to a nearly vertical rise in deaths by drugs.

Among men, heroin overdoses are more common; while women die from prescription opioids at greater rates as they age. The age at which African-American men die from cocaine is also rising.


Sub-epidemics present a wake-up call regarding the sharp growth in overdose deaths. The growth curve really took off after 1999, according to the authors of the study. Doctors prescribed opioid pain killers more widely than ever before, while new technologies made illicit drugs easier to make and deliver, according to Donald Burke, Dean of the university and the study’s senior author. At the same time the demand for drugs has grown.

Heroin and synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl have surpassed prescription opioids as a cause of overdose deaths. New prescription guidelines and restrictions now in place have made those drugs less available, but the illicit Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have replaced them are extremely potent.

The study showed that the largest category of victims of heroin were men in their twenties and thirties. Men were also the most common victims of presciption opioids in middle age as well as young adults. The death rates of middle-aged women who died from opioid overdoses approaches that of men in their late fifities.

If you suspect someone is abusing prescription drugs, we urge you to call the drug helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

Review our Knowledge Base or the links displayed on this page for similar and related topics.

See Also:
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP)
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)
National Clearing House for Alcohol and Drug Information
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)