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A new STAT-Harvard poll finds that 41 percent of Americans know someone who has abused prescription painkillers in the last five years — and 1 in 12 say they know someone who died from an overdose.

That’s the latest evidence showing the broad reach of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States. From 1999 to 2015, over half a million Americans died from overdoses of legal or illegal drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of annual deaths from narcotics and hallucinogens increased threefold during that period, from 11,081 to 37,269.

Deaths resulting from opioid overdoses increased fivefold since 1999, jumping by 16 percent in 2015 alone.


The CDC data also show:

  • The surge in overdose deaths from narcotics and hallucinogens has been particularly dramatic among people 55 to 64 years old; since 1999, deaths in that age group increased by 1,180 percent.
  • The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing sharply, more than tripling since 2011.
  • In 2015, the sharpest increase in deaths, 72 percent, was among people who overdosed on “other synthetic narcotics,” a category that includes opioid painkillers fentanyl, propoxyphene, and meperidine.

16 years of overdose deaths in the US

Explore the interactive visualization below to learn more about overdose deaths caused by narcotics and hallucinogens from 1999 to 2015. The vertical axis shows the number of people who died from a drug-related overdose in a year. The colored bands represent different types of drugs. "Other opioids" include morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. The "other synthetic narcotics" category includes fentanyl, propoxyphene, and meperidine. Click on the colored bands to see the data broken down by drug type. Click on the arrows above the chart or the age groups at the bottom to see the data broken down by age.

Cannabis (derivatives)
Other and unspecified narcotics
Other synthetic narcotics
Other opioids
all ages
< 15
Talia Bronshtein/STAT Source: CDC WONDER The Multiple Cause of Death data (T40.0-T40.9)