U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Prescription Opioid Overdose Deaths: Analysis and Recommendations

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2022
17 pages

This paper reports the current features and findings of statistical collections on opioid overdose deaths in the United States from both prescription and illicit opioids and offers recommendations for improving statistical systems for prescription opioid overdose deaths.



Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database reports that in 2019, 49,860 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States. In 2020, the United States experienced the greatest number of opioid-involved deaths, with 68,630 overdoses. From 2016 to 2020, there was a 62.44-percent increase in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths. The WONDER database is an internet system with a wide array of public health information; however, analysis of the raw data, without accounting for testing and reporting variations in compiling the overdose data, is limited in its applicability. The Multiple Cause of Death data consist of national mortality and population data that span the years 1999 to 2020. Data are based on death certificates for U.S. residents. These data are produced by the National Center for Health Statistics at CDC. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) Training and Technical Assistance Center (TTAC) at the Institute for Intergovernmental Research has compiled overdose death statistics from 1999 to 2020 (PDMP TTAC website). The current report presents prescription opioid overdose data trends from 2016 to 2020. After reviewing the limitations of the various databases that contain statistics on Prescription opioid overdose deaths in the United States, this report notes that to accurately measure the scope of the prescription opioid overdose problem in the United State, a national standard for death investigation, toxicology testing, and reporting must be developed and implemented. Further research into the current processes used throughout the United States is needed. Appended data tables

Date Published: February 1, 2022