May 30, 2024 5:45 am

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Opioids remain deadliest drug in the United States

Zinnia Health has identified the drugs that are the biggest threat to the American population, with opioids being responsible for over 644,000 fatalities since 1999 and Psychostimulants holding the largest increase in overdose death rate at 5,848%. By analyzing overdose data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), they discovered the total fatalities caused by various drugs and the percentage increase in deaths over a 20-year period. 


Drugs with the Highest Overdose Rates  

Opioids stand out as the biggest killer, causing over 644,000 deaths, a figure comparable to the entire population of Vermont. Opioids include synthetic options like fentanyl, legally prescribed pain relievers including oxycodone and hydrocodone, and illegal substances like Heroin. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2023), less than 10% of individuals with opioid addiction receive the necessary treatment.  


Stimulants have the second-highest number of overdose deaths, surpassing 306,000 since 1999. In 2016, stimulants had the highest year-over-year surge in overdose deaths, with an increase of 42%, going from 12,122 deaths in 2015 to 17,258 in 2016. However, this figure is 36,000 fewer than the 2021 data, where a total of 53,495 people were killed by an overdose of stimulants. 

With a count of approximately 185,000 overdose deaths since 1999, of which 13.2% occurred in 2021 alone (24,486 deaths), cocaine ranks as the third-most dangerous substance. During this time, there has been a 541% increase in deaths associated with its use. Depending on the duration of dependence, cocaine can lead to various adverse effects, including seizures, kidney problems, and strokes.   

Since 1999, heroin has also been responsible for around 152,000 deaths, benzodiazepines account for 143,000 deaths, psychostimulants contributed to 135,000 deaths, and antidepressants are associated with 88,000 deaths.   

The Drugs with the highest increase in overdose death rate since 1999 

Psychostimulants have seen the most significant increase in overdose deaths over the period the study measured. In 1999, there were 527 overdose deaths recorded compared to a catastrophic 32,537 in 2021— a staggering 5,848% increase. In 2021, there were 14,101 more overdose deaths for males compared to females. Psychostimulants, over the past 20 years, have seen five times the increase in overdose deaths compared to the next highest drug. 


Stimulants have seen the second-highest increase in overdose deaths at 1,153%. 2021 recorded the highest number of fatalities due to stimulants since 1999 at 53,495.  

Benzodiazepines have had the third-highest increase in overdose deaths of 1,001% since 1999. 420 deaths were registered for women in 1999 with 715 for men, compared to 5,056 for women and 7,443 for men in 2021. The use of benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Valium, poses inherent dangers, particularly when combined with alcohol or other substances, which can increase the risk to a potentially fatal level.   

Cocaine has seen an overdose death increase of 541% over the past twenty years, with Heroin following closely at 368% and antidepressants at 235%. 

Commenting on the findings, Dr. David Hu at Zinnia Health commented: “These increasing overdose death rates are made all the more tragic by the fact that only a small fraction of people struggling with addiction ever receive any formal treatment.  

This is a growing problem, but our response in the U.S. has been largely static. People suffering from substance use disorders should seek help as soon as possible because effective treatments that can help prevent overdose death and other negative outcomes do exist.”


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