How to Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. hit an all-time high in 2020. According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose death rates increased from 72,151 in 2019 to 93,331 in 2020. While one could speculate that the stark 29% increase in deaths is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is no concrete data to support this.

Causes aside, what is clear is that overdose deaths are a complicated and ongoing reality. While rates have fluctuated over the last decade, overdoses are an urgent matter that requires concrete solutions.

Causes of Overdoses

Drug overdoses are one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths in the U.S. While these rates vary widely by state, studies show that over 70% of deaths are caused by opioid drugs, especially illicit forms of fentanyl that are sometimes mixed with heroin and methamphetamine.

Overdoses occur when the body is overwhelmed by a substance. This can be due to the purity and dosage or an accumulation of multiple substances at once. In many cases, overdose deaths are unintentional or accidental. Some of the risk factors include: 


Individuals who relapse after a period of abstaining from substances are more vulnerable to overdoses because their tolerance has gone down.

History of Mental Illness 

Conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can trigger excessive substance use.

Poly-Drug Use

Individuals who regularly take multiple substance at once are also at risk of an overdose, especially if they forget how much they’ve consumed.

Lack of Knowledge 

Anyone can overdose on a drug if they don’t follow protocols for safe dosages. This applies to both prescription medications and street drugs.

Illicit Fentanyl

When used safely in a medical environment, fentanyl provides relief to patients with severe pain. However, illegal and unregulated forms are one of the biggest causes of overdoses due to their high potency.

Preventing Overdoses

Preventing overdoses starts with being educated about safe dosages and knowing what types of support are available. Some of these include:


Naloxone — known as Narcan — is a fast-acting drug that reverses an opioid overdose by restoring a person’s respiratory system. While additional funding is required, the use of Narcan is on the rise, especially among medical personnel and first-responders.

Safe Consumption Sites

Safe consumption sites (SCS) have become an effective way to prevent overdoses. These centers allow supervised drug injections and provide safe dosages to individuals in a sterile setting. This form of harm reduction has been successful at preventing overdoses in hard-to-reach communities.

Opioid-Agonist Treatments (OAT)

Medications such as buprenorphine and methadone are used to safely wean people off drugs like heroin. Since these medications are weaker forms of opioids, they help minimize cravings and prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. OAT is an effective way of decreasing opioid use and overdose deaths in general. 

Drug Diligence

On an individual level, being aware of safe dosages and knowing what you’re taking is another good deterrent. Drug testing kits, for example, are a great way of knowing what’s in a drug or substance. Testing kits, fentanyl testing strips, and needle exchange programs can be bought online or obtained from public health departments.


Preventing drug overdoses is a complex matter, but there is help available. By arming themselves with knowledge of how overdoses occur and how to prevent them, individuals can minimize the harm incurred by long-term substance abuse.

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