These Overdose Death Rates May (or May Not) Surprise You

Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  “Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years,” the center has estimated. But what about the drug overdose deaths?

Drug Overdose Deaths

The National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC has recently updated its own 2014 death rate statistics based on data it collects and tracks of the most commonly used drugs – prescription and illicit – in the United States.  The number of deaths from prescription drugs has increased 242% since 2001, totaling 25,760 in 2014. Illicit drugs accounted for 17,465 deaths in 2014, which is a 210% increase from 2001 deaths.

Drugs and many of the chemicals used to make drugs are grouped by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) into 5 classifications or “Drug Schedules.” Each schedule represents a degree of danger and “potential for abuse,” with Schedule I being the most harmful and illicit and degrees lessening slightly with each remaining level through Schedule V.


Cocaine is classified by the DEA as a Schedule II substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “any route of administration (of cocaine) can lead to absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine, possible acute cardiovascular or cerebrovascular emergencies, and seizures—all of which can result in sudden death.”  Cocaine overdose accounted for 5,415 deaths in 2014.


Heroin is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I substance.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that, among the many dangers of heroin use, “mental function is clouded; heart function slows; and breathing is also severely slowed, sometimes enough to be life-threatening. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage.”  Heroin overdoses accounted for 10,574 deaths in 2014.


Marijuana is also classified by the DEA as a Schedule I substance, which means, according to the DEA, that marijuana (or cannabis) is considered to be a drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Marijuana overdose accounted for 0 deaths in 2014.   That’s not a typo.  It’s a zero.  Zero deaths were attributed to marijuana overdoses in 2014.

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