Opioid Mortality Trends by Drug Type
United States

Opioid Mortality Trends By Drug Type
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Opioid overdoses have skyrocketed since the late 1990's, becoming the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. This report examines the opioid crisis's impact in the United States.

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes several kinds of painkillers—both prescription and illegal versions—as well as heroin. Black-market varieties of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, have recently surged in popularity. Mortality data for several types of opioids are presented below.

By the numbers:

Mortality statistics for each drug type in this report are not mutually exclusive. Multiple types of opioids may be found in an overdose victim, so the values for the subtypes of opioids do not necessarily add up to the total number of opioid-related deaths. The data in this report is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), queried from their WONDER database under Multiple Causes of Death. Note that data may not be available for every type of opioid: the CDC suppresses reporting of small death counts for privacy reasons.

Opioid Overdose Mortality Trends: All Types

Prescription Opioid Deaths

Prescription opioids include all types of opioids except opium and heroin, which are exclusively used illegally. Drug-related deaths within this classification may include prescription drugs, such as fentanyl, that are used illegally. It is not possible to discern from the data whether or not a death was from a legal prescription or an illicitly-acquired version of such drugs.

Health experts trace the roots of the opioid crisis to the overprescription of opioid pain relievers, beginning in the late 1990’s. It is now widely acknowledged that many prescription opioids are dangerously addictive. Increasingly, doctors have taken steps to limit their distribution. However, even as the supply of prescription opioids was constrained, the demand for opioids remained.

Heroin Overdose Deaths 

Heroin is an illegal drug made from morphine, which is in turn derived from poppies of the opium plant. Heroin deaths began spiking nationwide around 2010, just as deaths from prescription opioids had begun to level off. Of new heroin users, three out of four have previously abused prescription opioids.

Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths 

Further complicating the crisis is black-market fentanyl, often sold alongside or mixed with heroin. Fentanyl is a synthetic (human-made) opioid that is legally available with a prescription. But in recent years, huge quantities of illegally manufactured fentanyl have entered the drug supply. The data shown here includes both legal and illegal fentanyl, as well as other synthetic opioids chemically similar to fentanyl. 

About the Data

The data in this article was queried from CDC Wonder, based on the following parameters:

• Opioid deaths: UCD codes: F11.0, X40-X44, X60-X64, X85, Y10-Y14; MCD codes: T40.0-T40.4, T40.6.

• Prescription Opioid Deaths: UCD codes: X40-X44, X60-X64, X85, Y10-Y14; MCD codes: T40.2-T40.4.

• Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioid Deaths: UCD codes: F11.0, X40-X44, X60-X64, Y10-Y14; MCD codes: T40.4.

• Heroin deaths: UCD codes: X40-X44, X60-X64, X85, Y10-Y14;MCD codes: T40.1.