Opioids - National Safety Council
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Addressing the Opioid Crisis

Drug overdose is now the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. In 2018, over 67,000 people died from drug overdoses. The main driver of these deaths is opioids – including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl and its analogues.

People who take prescribed opioids, even as directed, may build up a tolerance. When pain has subsided, some people find it easy to stop taking them and others find it harder to quit. Some people who find it harder to quit may continue to take opioids for longer than necessary, or may develop an opioid use disorder. Over 50% percent of people who have misused prescription opioids reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don't even know that sharing opioids is a felony.

People who take opioid pain relievers for too long or in doses too large are more at risk of developing an opioid use disorder and more likely to die of drug overdose. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9.9 million people ages 12 and older misused prescription opioids in 2018, and an estimated 2 million people had an opioid use disorder.

Learn How to Help Keep Loved Ones Alive

National Safety Council provides answers for families, resources for employers and prescribers, and information to help keep you safe at home and in your community:


Opioids: By the Numbers

The term “opioid” includes both prescription pain relievers (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, etc.) and illicit drugs (heroin, illicitly manufactured fentanyl, etc.). Some of these substances are derived from the poppy plant (natural or semisynthetic opioids), while others are fully synthetic (they don’t occur naturally).

The most recent data (2019) shows us that:

  • The vast majority of preventable drug overdose deaths (73%) involve opioids
  • Preventable opioid overdose deaths increased 457% since 1999
  • The opioid category that includes morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone was involved in 15,503 deaths
  • The drug category most frequently involved in opioid overdoses and growing at the fastest pace is synthetic opioids other than methadone (fentanyl, drugs that are chemically similar to fentanyl)
  • Fentanyl accounted for 33,725 preventable deaths, representing a 17% increase over 2018
  • Psychostimulants, including methamphetamine, accounted for the second highest number of deaths, claiming 15,503 lives