Natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include commonly prescribed pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, are involved in more overdose deaths than any other type of opioid. Although drug overdose deaths associated with opioids declined from 2011 to 2013 there was a sharp 9% increase in 2014.


More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. In 2014, there were nearly one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. In 2014, opioids accounted for 61% of all drug overdose deaths, killing over 28,000 people in the United States.  The rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000. The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic is far from being contained despite federal and state regulations designed to curb opioid overprescribing and patient abuse.

The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids nearly doubled between 2013 and 2014. This category includes both prescription synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl and tramadol) and non-pharmaceutical fentanyl manufactured in illegal laboratories (illicit fentanyl).

To contain the epidemic of opioid drug overdose deaths and prevent opioid-related co-morbidities, efforts to reduce opioid prescribing must be expanded past federal and state mandates to include intensive education about prescription and non-prescription alternatives. As the FDA works to improve their policies regarding opioid prescribing, it is vital for both patients and providers to look for alternative solutions to opioids for treating chronic pain conditions.