Over 30% of American Adults Know Someone Who Died of Drug Overdose

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According to a survey, 18.9% of respondents said that the person they knew who died of a drug overdose was a family member or close friend.

Over 30% of adults in the United States report knowing someone who has died from a fatal drug overdose, according to the results from a survey published in the journal JAMA Health Forum.1 The authors of the study said that the experience of losing someone to an overdose was associated with a higher likelihood of endorsing addiction as a key policy issue.

Over 30% of American Adults Know Someone Who Died of Drug Overdose / Leszek Czerwonka - stock.adobe.com

Over 30% of American Adults Know Someone Who Died of Drug Overdose / Leszek Czerwonka - stock.adobe.com

According to data from the CDC, there were an estimated 111,029 drug overdose deaths in 2022, with nearly 70% of them due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Although this number dropped slightly in 2023—down about 3% to 107,543—it still represents a significant increase from just over a decade ago and has impacted people all over the country.2

Key Takeaways

  • Over 30% of U.S. adults report knowing someone who has died from a drug overdose, highlighting the widespread impact of the overdose crisis.
  • Experiencing the loss of a family member or close friend to a drug overdose is linked to an increased likelihood of viewing addiction as a crucial policy issue, emphasizing the need for policy changes to address the crisis.
  • The burden of personal overdose loss is greater among individuals with lower incomes, illustrating the intersection of economic precarity and the impact of the overdose crisis.

“The drug overdose crisis is a national tragedy,” Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School and a lead author on the study, said in a release.3 “Although large numbers of US adults are bereaved due to overdose, they may not be as visible as other groups who have lost loved ones to less stigmatized health issues. Movements to build support for policy change to overcome the devastating toll of the overdose crisis should consider the role of this community.”

READ MORE: Tianeptine Misuse Raises Concerns Across US, but is Stigmatizing the Drug Helpful?

Investigators from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a cross-sectional study to “quantify the scope of the drug overdose crisis in terms of personal overdose loss and to assess the policy implications of this loss.” Data was gathered from the COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-Being (CLIMB) study, an ongoing longitudinal survey that began in March 2020.

During the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2 new questions were added to the CLIMB survey that dealt with personal overdose loss: “Do you personally know anyone who has died from a drug overdose?” and “Who do you know that has died from a drug overdose?”

Of the 2,326 people who responded to the survey, 32%—which translates to around 80 million Americans—said they experienced personal overdose loss. Of those, 18.9% said that the person they knew who died of a drug overdose was a family member or close friend. Personal overdose loss was associated with an income of lower than $30000 and did not differ across political party groups.

Additionally, the experience of losing a family member or friend to a drug overdose was associated with increased odds of viewing addiction as an “extremely or very important” policy issue.

Study limitations include that personal overdose loss may be underreported due to the stigma of overdose and that respondents were not asked about how recent the personal overdose loss was. The authors noted that future research should oversample among American Indian and Alaska Native individuals to ensure a sufficient sample to generate representative estimates.

“This study contributes new evidence that the addiction crisis and the losses that come with it are common across Americans, but the burden is greater among those who are more economically precarious,” Catherine Ettman, PhD, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, said in a release.3 “Addressing addiction can be a unifying theme in increasingly divided times.”

READ MORE: Substance Use Disorder Resource Center

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References
1. Kennedy-Hendricks A, Ettman CK, Gollust SE, et al. Experience of Personal Loss Due to Drug Overdose Among US Adults. JAMA Health Forum. 2024;5(5):e241262. doi:10.1001/jamahealthforum.2024.1262
2. U.S. Overdose Deaths Decrease in 2023, First Time Since 2018. News Release. CDC. May 15, 2024. Accessed May 31, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2024/20240515.htm
3. Nearly one-third of US adults know someone who’s died of drug overdose. News Release. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. May 31, 2024. Accessed May 31, 2024. https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2024/nearly-one-third-of-us-adults-know-someone-whos-died-of-drug-overdose
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