US overdose deaths decline slightly in 2023, CDC reports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released dates showing the number of U.S. fatal overdoses fell last year. 

About 107,500 people died of overdoses in the U.S. last year, including both American citizens and non-citizens who were in the country at the time they died, the CDC estimated. That’s down 3% from 2022, when there were an estimated 111,000 such deaths, the agency said.

Though the data is provisional and could change after more analysis, the agency still expects a drop when the final counts are in. 

It would be only the second annual decline since the current national drug death epidemic began more than three decades ago.

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Experts reacted cautiously. One described the decline as relatively small, and said it should be thought more as part of a leveling off than a decrease. Another noted that the last time a decline occurred — in 2018 — drug deaths shot up in the years that followed.


'Flags of Hope' to honor and remember those lost to drug overdoses as many Edmontonians gathered at Victoria Park this evening to mark the annual International Overdose Awareness Day, on August 31, 2023, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur

"Any decline is encouraging," said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University researcher who studies overdose trends. "But I think it's certainly premature to celebrate or to draw any large-scale conclusions about where we may be headed long-term with this crisis."

It's also too soon to know what spurred the decline, Marshall and other experts said. Explanations could include shifts in the drug supply, expansion of overdose prevention and addiction treatment, and the grim possibility that the epidemic has killed so many that now there are basically fewer people to kill.

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CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deb Houry called the dip "heartening news" and praised efforts to reduce the tally, but she noted "there are still families and friends losing their loved ones to drug overdoses at staggering numbers."

The drug overdose epidemic, which has killed more than 1 million people since 1999, has had many ripple effects. For example, a study published last week in JAMA Psychiatry estimated that more than 321,000 U.S. children lost a parent to a fatal drug overdose from 2011 to 2021.

Prescription painkillers once drove the nation’s overdose epidemic, but they were supplanted years ago by heroin and more recently by illegal fentanyl. The dangerously powerful opioid was developed to treat intense pain from ailments like cancer but has increasingly been mixed with other drugs in the illicit drug supply.

Meanwhile, more money is becoming available to treat addiction and prevent overdoses, through government funding and also through legal settlements with drugmakers, wholesalers and pharmacies, Ciccarone noted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.