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The Age of Overdose

Substance abuse in the U.S. remains an urgent issue in every population – its fatalities transcending demographical, regional, and socioeconomic boundaries. However, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a surge in overdose deaths in certain populations.

In order to better understand the growing overdose epidemic, we pulled information from the CDC’s WONDER database and visualized drug- and alcohol-related deaths by age group, state, and time period.

Cause of Death for All Ages

Infographics of US overdose deaths by substance

Drug overdose deaths vary widely by substance and age group, but some demographics are disproportionately affected. Those between the ages of 15 and 24 have the lowest number of overdose deaths at only 1.485 per 100,000 people. The number of fatal overdoses increases with age, peaking at 45–54-years-old and then falling. Those in the 45–54 age group have the highest number of deaths out of all demographics: 5.883 per 100,000 people for opioids other than heroin or methadone.

At 4.122 deaths per 100,000 people, opioids other than heroin – a category that includes prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin – have the most fatalities total. Cocaine takes the dubious honor of second place at 3.330 deaths, followed by alcohol poisoning, heroin, and methadone. Psychostimulants – including methamphetamine – cause the least amount of deaths total at 2.165 per 100,000 people.

Explore Most Likely Overdoses by Age and State

Select an age, gender, and state above to find out which substance you’re most likely to overdose on in each state. Also note the average amount of accidental overdoses in that time period.

To experience an overdose – let alone die from one – is a tragedy at any age. Don’t let the compulsion to continue abusing drugs place you or a loved one in harm’s way – call to speak with someone about effective drug and alcohol abuse treatment options.

Overdose Deaths Over Time

Since 1999, fatal overdoses have risen across the board. Cocaine is the only substance which had a lower number of deaths in 2013 than in 1999. Though it had the highest amount of deaths compared to other substances in 1999 (and had a large spike in 2006), fatal cocaine overdoses steadily fell for the most part throughout the last seven years.

Opioids other than heroin and methadone, on the other hand, had the greatest increase in fatal overdoses over the past 14 years. This rise in deaths could be attributed to trends in overprescribing: The CDC found that from 1999 to 2013, the amount of opioids prescribed to Americans quadrupled. Interestingly, they found that deaths also quadrupled over that same period.

Graph of an overdose in the united states 1999 to 2013

Percent of Deaths by Age for Each U.S. State

Illustration of Percent of drug and alcohol-related deaths per age group broken down by state

Overdose deaths by state varied by age group from 1998 to 2013. Surprisingly, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and South Dakota reported no fatal overdoses in the 25–34-year-old age group. On the other end of the spectrum, only 11 states reported drug-related deaths for those between 65- and 74-years-old, and only California and Florida reported overdose deaths in the 75 years and older demographic. Overall, most overdose deaths occur in the 25–44 and 45–54 age groups.

Percent of Deaths by Substance for Each U.S. State

Infographics of the percentage of overdose deaths per substance

Opioids other than heroin and methadone, cocaine, and alcohol comprise the majority of overdose deaths in nearly every state. Cocaine-related deaths are prevalent in the District of Columbia and states in the New England region as well as in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. The percentage of alcohol deaths is particularly great in Alaska, Wyoming, and Minnesota, while psychostimulant deaths remain relatively small, if not non-existent, in most states – Hawaii, California, and Arizona being the exceptions.

While most states have a high number amount of prescription opioid-related deaths, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, and Illinois are outliers. Connecticut and Illinois have a substantial amount of heroin overdose deaths, so prescription opioid users in those states may have switched to heroin – a cheaper, more available alternative.

While opioids tend to be at the top of the list of substances associated with overdose deaths, all substances – alcohol, prescription medication and street drugs alike – carry an inherent overdose risk. Seeking treatment for substance abuse can preclude an overdose situation from ever occurring – call for more information.

Drug Deaths and Alcohol Deaths by State

Alaska has the highest amount of alcohol overdoses at a striking 16.35 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by the District of Columbia and Wyoming at 16.18 and 14.20 respectively. The other top states for alcohol-related deaths are spread throughout the U.S. rather than concentrated in a specific region, suggesting that alcohol’s reach is wide and varied.

The states with the most drug overdose deaths are the District of Columbia at 21.02 deaths per 100,000 people, Wyoming at 15.55, and Alaska at 13.50. The rest of the top 10 states remain similar to the top 10 in alcohol-related deaths: All of them are ranked relatively similarly on both lists. This might point to some issues in health care (how first responders address overdoses) or in policy (how each state addresses risk management actions toward drug addiction and subsequent overdoses).

Top Overdose Substance for Each U.S. State

Top overdose substance of reach US state

Overall, other opioids cause the majority of overdose deaths in most states. Cocaine ranks higher in many states in the Northeast as well as in Illinois, Texas, and Louisiana. Alcohol remains a driving force behind overdose deaths in Alaska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Georgia is the only state where methadone takes the top spot, and heroin causes the most overdose deaths in only a few states. Interestingly, psychostimulants are missing from the continental U.S., but claim the top spot in Hawaii.


Unfortunately, fatal drug overdoses span across demographic and geographic borders. Some states and age groups are particularly affected, suggesting that more efforts to reduce fatalities in these populations are needed. But while specific substances may be prevalent in some groups over others, drug addiction doesn’t discriminate. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, visit or call 1-888-982-6027 today for more information about finding a detox, rehabilitation, or recovery program that fits your needs.


We pulled data from the CDC’s WONDER database on multiple causes of death for the years 1999–2013, using the death rates and populations for drugs T40.1 (heroin), T40.2 (other semi-synthetic opioids), T40.3 (methadone), T40.5 (cocaine), 43.6 (psychostimulants with abuse potential), and X45 (accidental poisoning by and exposure to alcohol) for each state and age group in each year.

We found the average overdose rate for 1999 to 2013 for each U.S. state by dividing the sum of total deaths by the sum of the populations for each of the years, then multiplying by 100,000.

We’ve displayed accidental drug- and alcohol-related deaths by their respective ICD-10 codes (T40.1, T40.2, etc.). There may be some overlap – i.e., it is possible that someone had both heroin and another opioid in their system at the time of death, in which case his or her death would be have been tagged with both ICD codes.

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