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Drugs & Health Blog

Drug Overdoses Kill More Than Cars, Guns, and Falling

Sara Bellum

Note: The Drugs & Health blog updated this infographic with 2011 data and published a follow-up blog post on September 18, 2014.  Check out here.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but this picture is all about the numbers. With 38,329 people dying from drug overdoses in 2010, it’s hard to really grasp the lives lost, the families and friends in mourning, or the generations that will never be, for those who took too much of a drug or who fatally mixed two drugs together (including alcohol). Deaths from drug overdoses have been increasing since the early 1990s—fueled most recently by a surge in heroin use.

Recent deaths—Philip Seymour Hoffman this year, Cory Monteith the year before, Whitney Houston the year before that, and so on—remind us almost annually of the dangers of drug use. But for every famous person that dies, tens of thousands of people who were only known by their schoolmates, friends, and families die as well.

Graphic with the text saying, "Drug Overdoses Kill more than cars, guns, and falling.  Falling:  26,852 deaths; Guns:  31,672 deaths; Traffic accidents:  33,687 deaths; Drug overdoses:  38,329 deaths, 30,006 of which were unintentional.  Source:  CDC Wide-ranging OnLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) on Mortality: (2010)”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 105 people in the United States die every day from drug overdoses.

“It will never happen to me. I’m not addicted, I’m just partying.”

We know that overdoses don’t just happen to people who are addicted to drugs or who relapsed—that is, started using again after a period of stopping (although they do face a greater risk). A person can overdose on drugs the very first time they try them. It is even more dangerous to mix different drugs or to mix alcohol with drugs.

When you take multiple drugs, you can multiply their harmful effects. For example, both alcohol and prescription pain medications suppress breathing, so if you take them together, your body is more likely to “forget” to breathe. Some drugs, like cocaine and heroin, do different things in the body, but that’s dangerous too. The combination of using more oxygen (because of cocaine’s stimulant properties) and reduced heart rate (because of the depressant effects of heroin), as well as other factors, could cause more harm than if you just used one of these drugs.

Even if you know better than to use these drugs, it’s good to know how to respond in an emergency. If you think someone you’re with may be overdosing, get help by calling 911 or going to the hospital. Scared that you might get in trouble? Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have what is known as “Good Samaritan” laws that protect drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed. Paramedics and hospitals have access to powerful drugs, like naloxone (known as Narcan) that can reverse opioid overdose.

Help raise awareness about the real dangers of drug abuse by sharing this blog post or this graphic. Then tell us in comments: Does the number of overdose deaths each year convince you to stop using or never to start using drugs? 



Thanks for NOT blaming the evils of the world solely on prescription medications as do most articles addressing this issue. Of course, the difference here is the people writing the piece are not out for scare-tactic, drama-media, non-reality, but actual fact-based data and reaching an audience with a different motive; to save lives not to entertain them. I really wish we could get some updated numbers that reflect the changes since many state have enacted drug laws greatly restricting access to pain medications for chronic pain patients. The latest statistics all predate these laws and are not a true picture of the amount of prescription medication overdoses nor do they reflect the HUGE surge in heroin use as you pointed out in your article. These two issues are nor mutually exclusive in my opinion. There is rarely anything written about the effects of overreaching laws that keep pain patients from being able to have the quality of life they deserve due to the idea that taking away ALL opioids will stop drug addicts from doing what they are going to find a way to do anyway. Leaving chronic pain patients with little if any ability to function as a viable citizen. This is, in my opinion, a violation of basic human rights and ADA [link removed, per comment guidelines]
Paracetamol kills you by destroying your liver. A too high dose will cause liver failure and you will be quite ill for several days until you die. Heroin is an opioid. It will slow your heart and stop your respiration in a matter of minutes after taking too high a dose. You will then achieve brain death within 10 minutes and you will not wake up. Cocaine is a stimulant and will probably cause a heart attack in most people who die from an overdose, but there are other ways cocaine can kill. Not all inhaled substances will kill the same way. It depends on what class of compound they are. For example, heroin can be inhaled (snorted), Nitrous oxide can be inhaled and kills you by causing anesthesia, putting you to sleep and washing out all the oxygen in your lungs so you suffocate [link removed per comment guidelines].
If the intent of this article is to be educational/informative for our youth. Here again we have failed our youth by presenting this article in a manner that is misleading. Why did the author chose to name heroin and cocaine, but intentionally leave out the fact that 22,134 of these overdoses were from over the counter or prescription drugs? It's misleading information such as this article that has lead use to where we are today.

Hi Tim.  You're right, according to the CDC, 22,810 drug overdose deaths in 2011 were related to pharmacueticals.  NIDA recognizes that prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse is a signficant issue.  That's why we developed PEERx, an online educational campaign to discourage abuse of prescription drugs among teens. We also have additional information about prescription and OTC drugs in our Drugs Facts section.

Hi Guys, Police officers are often the first responders to overdose victims. In many states they are not allowed to carry or administer naloxone thus delaying a treatment that can save lives and buy time to get the individual stabilized. There is a bill in the senate now to allow law enforcement to carry this drug. Please see, sign, and share the petition below in order to stop preventable overdose deaths. [link removed, per comment guidelines]
I like heroin. Ive almost died from it. Ive had seventeen friends die from it who might have lived if officers carried naloxone
I have to ask about this, because someone very close to me is an addict; I'm trying to educate myself. What is it that you like? What do you think about having 17 friends die from it? Do you think its ok to use and if so, why? Do your friend's deaths change your point of view at all? What would make you want to stop?
what does falling mean????

Hi Billy.  Falling quite literally means falling.  The CDC lists several subcategories for falling, including falls related to snow and ice; rollerskating, ice skating, and skateboarding; tripping or stumbling; playground equipment; ladders or scaffolding; trees; cliffs; and driving or jumping into water.  Those are a few examples.  When you think about how often people fall, it's surprising to think more people die from drug overdoses than from falls.  

NIDA gets questions about drug abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts. When drug abuse is added to the picture, life can get even more overwhelming---People have described it like not being able to breathe.  There is a hotline you can call if you need to talk to someone about the way you feel---you  will find a helpful, caring  person at the other end of the phone.  Call   1-800-273-TALK (8255.)  This is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline but you can call and talk to them about anything. 

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