Study Finds More Than 40% of Americans Know Someone Who Died by Overdose

February 22, 2024 by Dan McCue
Study Finds More Than 40% of Americans Know Someone Who Died by Overdose
(Photo by Dan McCue)

SANTA MONICA. Calif. — More than 40% of Americans have known someone who died of a drug overdose, and about one-third of those individuals say the death disrupted their lives, according to a new study by the Rand Corporation.

Researchers with the nonprofit think tank and global policy institute came to their conclusion after analyzing a recent survey of 2,072 American adults.

Participants in the RAND American Life Panel were asked whether they knew someone who had died of a drug overdose and to characterize how the death affected their life.

In the study, 42.4% of respondents reported having personally known at least one person who died by overdose, a percentage that suggests as many as 125 million American adults have experienced such a loss.

The study also found that 13% of those who responded had had their lives disrupted by an overdose loss. 

And more than 4% of those surveyed reported that the loss conferred a significant or devastating effect that they still feel, the researchers said.

The findings were published by the American Journal of Public Health.

In a written statement posted to RAND’s website, Alison Athey, the study’s lead author, said, “The experiences and needs of millions of survivors of an overdose loss largely have been overlooked in the clinical and public health response to the nation’s overdose crisis.”

Athey, a behavioral scientist at RAND, went on to say that the findings “emphasize the need for research into the prevalence and impact of overdose loss, particularly among groups and communities that experience disproportionate rates of loss.”

Joining Athey as authors of the study were Beau Kilmer, also of RAND, and Julie Cerel, of the University of Kentucky.

The researchers found that exposure to an overdose death is more common among women than men, married participants than unmarried participants, U.S.-born participants than immigrants, and those who live in urban settings as compared to those in rural settings.

Rates of exposure were significantly higher in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) and in the East South Central region (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) than in other parts of the nation.

More than 109,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2022, placing the national total since 2000 at more than 1.1 million overdose deaths, according to the researchers.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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