Opioids Most Commonly Associated with Drug-Related Deaths

By Leslie Davis

Opiates and opioids were the drugs most commonly associated with drug-related deaths and suicides in the 2007 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report on drug-related mortality.

The report, “Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2007: Area Profiles of Drug-Related Mortality,” revealed that opiates and opioids accounted for at least 50 percent of drug-related deaths and suicides in the 63 metropolitan statistical areas covered by DAWN. The prevalence of opioid-related deaths reached a high of 93 percent in the Provo, Utah, area.

The 279 deaths and suicides attributable to opiates and opioids in 2007 was an increase of 42 instances since 2006. The second and third most common drugs involved in drug-related deaths and suicides were cocaine and benzodiazepines, respectively.

In the report, opiates and opioids were defined as “all types of natural and synthetic opiates and opioid analgesics.” This category included heroin, methadone and prescription painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine.

The 2007 DAWN report contained information covering about 35 percent of the U.S. populations, including statewide coverage for 10 states, 63 major metropolitan areas and 479 jurisdictions. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related deaths.

Risks of Opioid Use

Opioids and opiates are commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain. However, some forms of opioids, such as heroin, are illegal. Whatever type of opioids are being used, it is possible to become addicted to the drugs, which can lead to several serious health consequences, including death.

Other side effects of opioid abuse include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Problems breathing
  • Problems with sexual function

Users of opioids can develop an unhealthy dependence on the drugs, and may become addicted. Opioids may also be used recreationally due to the euphoric feeling they produce in users.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you know is addicted to an opioid, medically supervised withdrawal and a therapeutic intervention are needed. If users abruptly discontinue use of opioids, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification at a residential treatment center provides a safe and supervised environment for a user to go through all of the stages of withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include muscle and bone pain, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, insomnia, cold flashes and involuntary leg movements.

Recovery from opioid addiction requires either complete abstinence or use of a medication, such as methadone or suboxone, that blocks the effects of opioids, eliminates withdrawal symptoms and relieves cravings.

Don’t let your addiction to painkillers or heroin make you one of the drug-related death statistics. Seek the help you need now to break your addiction before it’s too late.


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