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Opioids: The Prescription Drug & Heroin Overdose Epidemic

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to receptors in your brain or body. Common opioids include heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.

The United States is in the midst of a prescription opioid overdose epidemic. In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, and at least half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. Many more became addicted to prescription and illegal opioids. Heroin-related deaths have also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010. In 2014, more than 10,500 people died from heroin.

Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue, but preventive actions, treatment for addiction, and proper response to overdoses can help.

Photo of prescription drug bottles and tablets

New Support to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

Learn more about the new grant awards that will help states and territories combat opioid addiction.


About the Epidemic

Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue. Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States.

Drug & Pain Medication Facts

Prescription opioids can be an effective form of pain management but it is important to understand their potential benefits and risks.


Preventive actions can reduce opioid abuse in the United States. Learn more about safe drug disposal, prevention planning, and education.

Treatment & Recovery

Treatment options are available to people in recovery. Learn about resources available to people with use disorders and their friends and families.

Overdose Response

Opioids cause death by slowing, and eventually stopping, a person's breathing. However, quick response can prevent brain injury and death.

Health Professionals Resources

Medical professionals play a key role in the proper use of opioids and use disorder treatment. Learn more about the available resources.

Law Enforcement Resources

Effective implementation of laws, policies, and programs often falls on law enforcement agencies. Learn about the available guidance.
Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Content last reviewed on March 24, 2016