US Drug Overdose Deaths Declined in 2023 for First Time in 5 Years

Alicia Ault May 15, 2024 for Medscape

At a Glance

The CDC reported a 3.1% decrease in US drug overdose deaths in 2023, marking the first decline in five years. Despite this, over 100,000 fatalities occurred nationwide, with increases observed in 15 states and Washington, DC. Deaths from synthetic opioids and heroin declined, while those related to methamphetamine and cocaine rose. Significant reductions were seen in Nebraska (25%) and Indiana (18%), but Alaska experienced a 44% increase. Synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, accounted for the majority of opioid-related deaths. The DEA emphasized a shift towards synthetic drugs trafficked by cartels, reflecting the severity of the ongoing drug crisis in the US.

The Statistics


Decline in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2023


Overdose deaths each year nationwide


Increase in deaths in Alaska, the highest in the nation.

5 Key Takeaways

Decrease in Overdose Deaths

The CDC reported a 3.1% decline in drug overdose deaths in the US for 2023, marking the first decrease in five years. An estimated 107,543 people died from overdoses, down from 111,029 in 2022, indicating some progress in combating the epidemic.

High National Death Toll

Despite the overall decline, the death toll remains alarmingly high with over 100,000 fatalities nationwide. This underscores that the drug overdose crisis is still a major public health issue, with the CDC emphasizing the need for continued efforts to prevent overdose deaths.

Regional Variances

Significant regional differences were observed. States like Nebraska and Indiana saw reductions of 25% and 18%, respectively, while Alaska experienced a 44% increase, the highest in the country. This highlights the uneven progress and the need for targeted interventions in different areas.

Shift in Drug Trends

There was a decline in deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, and heroin, while fatalities related to methamphetamine and cocaine increased. This shift indicates changing patterns in drug use and the evolving nature of the overdose crisis.

Mexican Cartels

The DEA noted a significant increase in the trafficking of synthetic drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine, largely driven by Mexican cartels. Seizures of fentanyl powder nearly doubled, and fentanyl pill seizures tripled from 2021 to 2023, illustrating the growing threat from synthetic, chemical-based drugs.

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