Drugs & Health Blog

Drug Overdoses Kill More Than Cars, Guns, and Falling

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Note: For an updated infographic and more on this topic, read “Drug Overdoses Kill More Than Cars, Guns, and Falling—UPDATE.

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.

Overdoses Happen—a Lot

Recent deaths—Philip Seymour Hoffman this year, Cory Monteith the year before, Whitney Houston the year before that, and so on—remind us almost every year 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:  http://wonder.cdc.gov/mortsql.html (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.”

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.

Mixing is Risky

It's 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.

In an Emergency

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?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


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]
whatever you do , DO NOT DO DRUGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it's bad it can kill you
Living, or driving, or jumping off a diving board can kill you too. Dying isn't the worst part. Drugs are not bad because you might die. Drugs are bad because they rip a hole the size of Texas in your family and circle of friends as they are torn apart by the thought of you getting hurt. Drugs are bad because they absorb all of your income to the point where you only work to get high, you live on the street, unable to pay for your rent/mortgage payment, you cant take care of your own children because you're too wrapped up in your own addiction to care about anything but the buzz. Drugs are bad because it traumatizes your little brother for the rest of his life to the point where he wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from nightmares about you shooting up, all because he was helping you move out of your college dorm and had to help you throw away a 8" x 12" x 5" box stuffed to the brim with thumb-bags in a dumpster behind a Denny's so you wouldn't get caught. Drugs are bad because you won't even recognize you have a problem, forcing your own family to take action against you in the form of either sending you to jail or destroying your parents hope's of retirement to send you to rehab. Drugs are bad because, in the frenzy for more money to use for more drugs, you steal your mother's jewelry and your brother's gift cards from Christmas and your sister's credit card. Drugs are bad because they don't just kill you, they destroy you. Drugs are bad because they don't just destroy you, they destroy the people around you.
I agree totally. My sister has been an addict for almost 15 years and has two young children we had to remove from her custody. it effects everyone.
I used drugs for a very long time thank God I'm free today I encourage you to educate yourself and your kids don't just tell them to say no show them that there is a better way and experienceing with drugs and alcohol is a choice that they don't have to make tell them the truth about drugs and alcohol I think it would be worth are Time to educate them train them up teach them word of God than to not and they get out their and take a hit of crack or shoot up herion and watch them spend half their lives struggling to get off dope in and out of rehab in prison or to mess around and overdose .this is something that we need to take serious and Prayerfully
stop lying
Im still alive fam
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].
In 3 weeks i take 130 paracetamol tablets nothing is happened to me i am still alive.I want to die plz tell me how many pill i can take to die

Ayushi, I'm so glad you're still alive, and thank you for reaching out through your comment. If you're trying to kill or harm yourself, please call 911 or the emergency assistance number for your area so they can get you help right away.

It also sounds like you need to talk to someone. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or Lifeline Crisis Chat at http://www.crisischat.org/. They are free and confidential, and will connect you to caring professionals who can help you through whatever you're dealing with.

Crisis Chat also has links to other resources on its website here: http://www.crisischat.org/find-resources/ and suggests that people outside the U.S. get in touch with one of the international crisis chat services listed on this page: http://unsuicide.wikispaces.com/Online+Suicide+Help#.VdTLIflVhBc

There are lots of people out there who want to help you, and I hope you'll reach out to one of these resources. Good luck, and keep reaching out for help.

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.

without a doubt heroin addiction has exploded across the u.s. it has become an epidemic. there is one reason for this. the prescription opiate pain killers were being handed out like candy in the early 2000s. something like 80% of all Oxycontin in the us was prescribed in my state of Florida. the govt crack down and the high prices of the pills has led to a new type of heroin addict. this is no longer an African American problem. now the white middle and upper classes are burying their children and now people are paying attn
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.  

Falling off hills
Or falling off of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, if you're Sherlock Holmes.
hi billy falling is all so means falling over like when u trip hahaha

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. 

Young generation is going to destroy themselves ,, We should save them. create the awareness for them who have the habit of drug addiction and Tell him/her about its side Effects [link removed per commenting guidelines]
I just looked up diazapam type meds. and saw one pham..something..I have seen that on Rx.'s and still not sure what it is? I also have questions about oxycontin that I use for pain..Is it really connected to Heroin? I was just told that. Scares me. thanks [link removed per commenting guidelines]

Hi Todd,

OxyContin is a type of prescription opioid painkiller, and heroin is a type of illegal opioid drug. Some studies have shown that some people who abuse prescription opioids move on to abusing heroin. You can read more about that here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/prescription-opioid-abuse-can-lead-heroin-abuse

When taken with a doctor's supervision, opioids are relatively safe and are effective pain reducers. They can be addictive, however, which is why it's so important to take them only as prescribed. If you have any concerns about your medicine, you should talk to your doctor.

Diazepam is a type of depressant or anti-anxiety medication. 

I recently read an article that stated that people who become addicted to opioid pain killers have the greatest potential to eventually become addicted to heroin because the heroin is much less expensive and a lot easier to purchase. I live in a rural town of 5500 people and heroin is an epidemic. It is very alarming.
hi every one don't take too many pills DO THE RIGHT
I would like to ask a question. Are teenage drug abusers killed directly from the drugs or do the drugs cause symptoms that cause them to be killed? I've seen videos on websites where people who've witnessed it firsthand say that sometimes, if you abuse the drugs the first 10 times nothing fatal may happen to you but is that really true? (Considering you stated that "A person can overdose on drugs the very first time they try them.") Thank you.

Hi Dawn, it depends on the drug, the person using it, and his or her situation. Inhalants, for example, are really unpredictable. They can cause something called “sudden sniffing death,” where fumes fill up the lungs and leave no room for oxygen. (Read more about that here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/word-day-polyneuropathy) That can happen the first time a person uses or the hundredth time; there’s no way to predict it. Marijuana, on the other hand, rarely causes overdoses itself, but driving while high is very dangerous. (And the rate of car crashes involving people high on marijuana is rising: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/colorado-uses-humor-highlight-drugg...) You can read more about the effects of different drugs in our Drug Facts section: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts

The US, less that 5% of the worlds population, generates more than 50% of the Pharmaceutical profits. Follow the money. The United States of Corporate Welfare.
I agree
Could second hand smoking be a drug overdose?
No, secondhand smoke has never been known to result in a life-threatening drug overdose.
These statistics are staggering and the likelihood of teens knowing someone personally who has overdosed is increasing each year. While you can reverse the effects of overdose through naloxone, no one wants to put themselves in that situation in the first place. Prevention is absolutely crucial.
I agree
how much crack do you need to kill a whale cuz i want that?