CDC Estimates Decline in U.S. Overdose Deaths in 2023, Totals Remain ‘Staggering’

Woman with pills
by Brett Rowland


Provisional estimates show drug overdose deaths declined about 3.1% nationwide, but multiple states reported increases of more than 20%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s provisional estimated overdose deaths in 2023 declined about 3.1% to 107,543. That’s down from 111,029 in 2022. Two out of every three deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a cheap and potent opioid smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.

Despite the national decline, some states reported double-digit increases in overdose deaths including Alaska (44.1%), Oregon (30%), Nevada (28.9%) and Washington (27.6%).

CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deb Houry said the national decline was good news, but more work remains.

“Today’s data showing a decrease in drug overdoses over the 12-month period through December 2023 is heartening news for our nation and demonstrates we are making progress to prevent deaths from drug overdoses,” she said in a statement. “However, this does not mean we have accomplished our mission. The data show we still lost over 100,000 people last year; meaning, there are still families and friends losing their loved ones to drug overdoses at staggering numbers.”

The CDC estimates this week follow the release of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest National Drug Threat Assessment. That assessment found the purity level of illicit fentanyl in the U.S. drug market has increased and the amount of fentanyl found in counterfeit prescription pills has increased, making the nation’s top drug threat even more dangerous.

A lethal dose of the potent opioid is about 2 milligrams, depending on the opioid tolerance of the user.

In 2022, the average fentanyl pill contained 2.4 milligrams of fentanyl, according to analysis by DEA forensic chemists who test random samples of the fentanyl seized in the U.S. Overall, the tested samples ranged from a low of .03 milligrams to a high of 9 milligrams.

“DEA forensic laboratory results documented that approximately 7 out of 10 fake pills contain a deadly dose of fentanyl,” according to the DEA report.

That’s up from 4 in 10 pills in 2021.

The purity of powdered fentanyl has increased. The average purity of the fentanyl powder samples was 19.2% in 2022, a 33% increase since 2021. The overall tested samples ranged from almost no fentanyl to 81.5% pure fentanyl.

Most of the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from drug cartels in Mexico, according to the DEA.

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Brett Rowland is an award-winning journalist who has worked as an editor and reporter in newsrooms in Illinois and Wisconsin. He is an investigative reporter for The Center Square.




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