Drug Overdoses

In 2010, the latest year for which precise data are available, 38,329 Americans died from drug overdoses.: that’s an average of 105 people every day,1 exceeding the toll of the September 11, 2001 attacks every 28 days.  It was the 11th straight year the number of fatal overdoses increased. The 2010 figure was an increase of 35 dead-per-day from 2005,  when an average of 75 people every day suffered fatal overdoses.2


Alcohol, of course, adds to the body count. On March 14, 2014, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 88,000 Americans — an average of 241 each day — died each year from “excessive alcohol consumption.”3 Injuries associated with underage drinking cost 5,000 lives a year4 — teenagers are 6.5 times more likely to die from alcohol than all illegal drugs combined.5  In 2008, 11,773 people died as a result of drunk driving , an average of 32 a day.6

Lost productivity associated with alcohol, primarily from hangovers, was estimated to be a whopping $148 billion per year, or about $2,000 for every adult in the workforce.7 Similarly, a study of college students reported that 25% had a hangover in the previous week.8


The National Academy of Sciences reported that 32% of those who tried tobacco products became dependent. For heroin, it was 23%, cocaine 17%, alcohol 15%, marijuana 9%.9

Prescription Drug Abuse

The Susbtance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration reported on December 8, 2011, that admission rates for treatment of addiction to prescription pain medications rose 430% from 1999 to 2009. (For more, click here.)


A 2007 study reported that 94% of those classified drug- or alcohol-dependent denied they needed treatment.10

A 2007 survey reported that 30% of Americans said they’d had an alcohol problem at some time in their lives. 8.5% reported an alcohol problem during the year prior to the survey. But only 24% of alcoholics reported undergoing any treatment and there was an average treatment-lag time of eight years after they developed dependence.11

A 2007 study also found treatment rates fell compared to a decade earlier, positing the cause was widespread perception, even among doctors, that addiction treatment doesn’t work.12

Underage Drinking/Advertising

Underage drinkers, an estimated 11 million of them, may account for as much as one-third of all alcohol spending.13 Dozens of studies over two decades show a correlation between alcohol advertising and underage drinking.14 Yet advertising is pervasive. In 2001, for example, beer and malt-beverage companies alone spent $811 million on advertising.15

Illegal Drug Prices

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that the price of cocaine dropped from $177 per pure gram of cocaine in 1988 to $139 in 1995; heroin fell to $984 per pure gram in 1995 from $1,655 in 1988; and marijuana prices dipped, from $287 for 1/3 ounce in 1988 to $269.16 The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported the same trend: cocaine, they said, cost as much as $600 per pure gram in the early 1980s, but plummeted to less than $200 by the mid-1990s. Prices continued to fall through 2005, the last year statistics were available.17

Why are drugs so rewarding that people spend tens of billions of dollars on them every year, risking imprisonment, addiction and overdose? The answer lies in the way drugs manipulate neurons at the molecular and cellular levels. For more, click on Addiction Science Intro/Menu.

1. Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 20, 2013; Fatal Drug Overdoses in U.S. Increase for 11th Consecutive Year, L.A. Times, Feb. 19, 2013; Unintentional Drug Poisoning in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), July 2010.

2. CDC Congressional Testimony, Trends in Unintentional Drug Overdose Deaths, March 12, 2008.

3.  CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), March 14, 2014.

4. Underage Drinking-Related Hospital Emergency Department Visits Rise 11 Percent Over the Memorial Day Weekend,, May 30, 2010. 

5. Worlds Largest Youth Alcohol Conference Charts Course to Prevent No. 1 Teen Risk,, Aug. 20, 2006.

6. Rate of Drunken-Driving Deaths Drops, AP/New York Times, Dec. 8, 2009

7. A Morning-After Pill for Hangovers? New York Times, Dec. 27, 2000; Shopping Around, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 30, 2004.

8. The Alcohol Hangover, Annals of Internal Medicine, June 6, 2000.

9. Addiction: A Brain Ailment, not a Moral Lapse; New York Times, Sep. 30, 2003.

10. NIH Survey Shows Most People With Drug Use Disorders Never Get Treatment,, May 8, 2007 (7217)

11. Almost One-Third of Adults Report Having Some Form of Alcohol-Use Problem During Their Lifetime, New Study,, Jul. 2, 2007.

12. New Few Alcohol Abusers Treated, Study Finds, AP/SF Chronicle, Jul. 3, 2007 (7229)

13. Acting Surgeon General Issueas National Call to Action on Underage Drinking, Mar. 7, 2007.

14. Sales Estimates Paint Picture of Alcohol Abusers, New York Times, May 2, 2006.

15. Disclosure of Advertising Tactics Reduces Odds Kids Will Drink,, Nov. 23, 2006.

16. Alcohol Ads on TV find their way to Teenagers, a Study Finds, Despite Industry Guidelines, New York Times, Dec. 18, 2002.

17. Snow Fall; The Atlantic, July/Aug 2007. 

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