Addiction Statistics Today—Where Does the Drug Problem Stand Now?

New York street.
(Photo by Ryan DeBerardinis/

One of the challenges that we face when addressing our country's drug problem is a lack of relevant and current data about the problem. It seems that every time we research the drug crisis, we find that the majority of published data on the subject is somewhat dated. Granted, the data might only be five to ten years old, but when examining a severe health issue which changes rapidly and which is also a life or death matter for millions of Americans, not having current data creates a stumbling block for us when we then try to resolve the problem.

After a thorough study of recently published reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we've been able to compile some relatively current information. What follows is a brief summation of the most current research documentation on our country's drug problem.

Drug Addiction and Overdose Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

While we do not yet have overdose statistics for 2018 (the CDC will likely publish that information by the fall of this year), we do have information on overdose statistics for 2017. Not only do we know how many people died from overdoses in 2017, but we also have an insight into the changing trends of overdoses for that year.

The CDC released a report in late December of 2018 which detailed overdose trends for 2016 and 2017. The CDC's goal was to inform the American people on the staggering death toll from drug use. Their objective was to remind the American people that this is still a significant problem and it is increasing.

According to the CDC’s report, overdose deaths from synthetic opioids—mainly illicitly manufactured fentanyl—increased by 45 percent from 2016 to 2017. While this happened, overdose deaths from other opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers remained high.

The CDC report went on to disclose that about 702,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses since 1999, and that about one-tenth of them died in 2017 alone. Opioids were involved in more than two-thirds of all 2017 drug deaths. Our country is struggling with a drug addiction epidemic that involves dozens of different types of drugs, but clearly, the most lethal drugs of them all are opioids.

In 2017, heroin overdose deaths were seven times higher than what they were in 1999, and prescription opioid overdoses were four times higher than in 1999. Altogether more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017—an almost ten percent increase from 2016.

According to Dr. Debra Houry, the director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, “The drug overdose epidemic continues to evolve, with the involvement of many types of drugs including opioids, cocaine, and psychostimulants. This underscores the urgency for more timely and localized data to inform public health and public safety action.”

She's not exaggerating. This is a serious issue that we need to address with priority and intensity.

Research Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a dual report in January 2019. One section of the report focused on trends and statistics, and the other offered a general overview of the drug problem. We can garner quite a bit of relevant data from these writings.

According to NIDA’s report on trends and statistics, exactly 70,237 people died from drug overdoses in 2017. Compare that to only 16,849 deaths from drug overdoses in 1999. That comes out to about a 317 percent increase in 18 years.

Overdose graph

NIDA’s reports aligned with the CDC’s statements on the opioid problem (and they should, as the two organizations share data). According to NIDA, opioid overdose deaths accounted for the extreme majority of all overdose deaths for 2017, claiming 47,600 of the 70,237 total deaths. That’s up from 8,048 deaths in 1999, an almost 500 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths alone.

According to NIDA’s general overview of the drug problem, as it stands currently, every single day, more than 130 people die from drug overdoses. This is happening right now. This is a serious national public health emergency, a crippling crisis that has a significant impact on the health and social welfare of the American people.

NIDA also commented on the sheer financial burden of addiction from a socioeconomic perspective. According to their research, prescription opioid misuse alone costs the nation about $78.5 billion every year in the form of healthcare costs, incarceration, legal costs, lost productivity, law enforcement, addiction treatment, theft, collateral damage, etc.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Opioids

pills abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is another top organization within the U.S. that works to raise awareness of the drug problem, and they also do so with a strong focus on the opioid crisis. According to their research, 11.4 million Americans misuse prescription opioid drugs—just one type of opioid. Another 886,000 Americans use heroin.

The DHHS is quite concerned about the very recent upsurge in new users of opioid drugs. According to their data, just in 2017, 81,000 people used heroin for the first time and 2 million people used prescription opioids for non-medical purposes for the first time. If roughly 2,081,000 people used opioids for the first time in 2017, then that means that about 5,701 people were exposed to opioid drugs for the first time every day that year. Even though 2017 is the most recent year for which we have data of this kind, there have been no preliminary signs or indications that the problem has dropped off at all in 2018 or 2019.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The data is pretty clear. Drug and alcohol addiction is an ongoing problem, severe yesterday, severe today, and it will continue to be severe tomorrow if we don’t organize massive action to address the issue.

The key to helping someone overcome drug and alcohol addiction lies in sending that person into and through a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Millions of Americans are actively struggling with a drug habit or alcoholism, and until these people are helped, we are not going to be successful in reversing the growth of our nation’s drug problem. Take the above information on addiction statistics and rates of overdose seriously. If you have a family member or loved one who struggles with an addiction habit, please do your best to get them into residential treatment as soon as possible.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.