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New Vital Signs Data from the CDC: Drug Overdose Deaths Rise, Disparities Widen

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new Vital Signs data which showed significant disparities across sex, age and racial/ethinic populations in rising drug overdose deaths.

Data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS) was analyzed from 25 states and Washington D.C. and found that in just one year (2019-2020), overdose death rates increased 44% for Black individuals, and 39% for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) individuals, compared to a 22% increase among White individuals.

In counties with more income inequality, overdose death rates for Black individuals were more than two times as high as in counties with less income inequality. Similarly, overdose death rates for younger AI/AN women were nearly two times those of younger white women. Even more staggering, overdose death rates in older Black men were nearly seven times as high as those in older White men. Overdose death rates were also found to be highest in counties with higher potential substance use treatment capacity and mental health providers, and naloxone administration was low among all groups.

While it was already known that drug overdose deaths increase 30% from 2019 to 2020, this new data shows how starkly disparities exist in overdose deaths, specifically among racial and ethnic minority populations.

To combat these disparities and advance health equity, the CDC released several evidence-based recommendations for communities to implement, including:

  1. Incorporating comprehensive, culturally responsive and community-based prevention and response efforts that address polysubstance use and social determinants of health;

  2. Increasing access to proven treatment for all people with substance use disorders (SUD); and

  3. Implementing harm reduction services to reduce overdoses and save lives, including naloxone, fentanyl test strips, SUD treatment referrals, and syringe service programs (SSPs).

The report concludes by sharing:

“Drug overdoses are preventable, and rapidly scaling up multisectoral, culturally responsive prevention efforts across federal, state, local, and tribal entities that place equity as a central tenet to address the escalating overdose crisis is urgently needed.”

While provisional data from the CDC already indicates an increase in drug overdose deaths in 2021, by implementing the above strategies, communities can create health equity among all members and prevent drug overdose deaths.

Make an Immediate Impact

To help prevent overdose deaths, here are four strategies from the CDC that anyone can implement today:

  • Talk to a doctor if you or someone close to you needs help for substance use

  • Learn about naloxone, a lifesaving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when administered in time. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a naloxone prescription or get naloxone from local organizations if you or a loved one uses illicit drugs, has a substance use disorder, takes high-dose prescription opioids, or has other risk factors for opioid overdose.

  • Read and share resources about overdose prevention and raise awareness about the communities who are disproportionately impacted by overdose.

  • Learn more about reducing stigma, which can be a major barrier to getting help.


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