August International Drug Overdose Awareness Day

August 3, 2020

International Drug Overdose Awareness Day

Substance use prevention is often understood to have three component parts: demand prevention, supply prevention, and harm prevention. In other words: reducing the desirability of substance use, reducing the availability of substances to use, and reducing the consequences that can stem from use. One of the greatest consequences of substance use can be death, often from a drug-involved overdose. And, due in part to the increased use over recent years of substances that can cause an overdose, fatal overdose rates have skyrocketed in the United States. As such, overdose prevention has become a core activity of many substance use prevention, behavioral health, and public health professionals and stakeholders. Unfortunately, more work remains to be done.

            From 1999 to 2017, the number of fatal overdoses occurring annually increased by over 400 percent, from 16,849 to 70,237.[1] This increase was driven first by the rising opioid epidemic, and more recently also by increasing use of other substances that can cause overdoses, such as cocaine and methamphetamines. In 2018, there was the first slight decline in overdose deaths in decades, and it was hoped that this was a sign of changing trends. However, provisional data for 2019 suggests that this is not the case, with an estimated 4.8 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2018.[2] This increase has occurred nationally, across 37 states and the District of Columbia. In the Central East region, all but one state saw an increase in overdose deaths in 2019.

            Substance use prevention professionals and other stakeholders must continue to implement and expand evidence-based harm prevention strategies, as well as evidence-based demand and supply prevention strategies, to address this growing need. SAMHSA has developed the Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit and other resources to support these efforts, and training and technical assistance services are available through the Central East Prevention Technology Transfer Center.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2018 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2020. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2018, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts. Retrieved from:

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