Office of National Drug Control Policy

Prescription Opioid Misuse and Heroin

The United States is in the midst of a prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from opioid overdose, which is up from more than 28,000 deaths in 2014. The increase in deaths was driven in large part by continued sharp increases in deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

As in 2014, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (excluding the category of synthetic opioids that includes fentanyl) rose only slightly, suggesting that efforts in recent years to reduce the misuse of these drugs may be having an impact.

Summary of 2015 Drug Overdose Data

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids rose from 28,647 in 2014 to 33,091 in 2015.

  • Heroin overdose deaths rose from 10,574 in 2014 to 12,990 in 2015, an increase of 23 percent.
  • Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 5,544 in 2014 to 9,580 in 2015, an increase of 73 percent. This category of opioids is dominated by fentanyl-related overdoses, and recent research indicates the fentanyl involved in these deaths is illicitly manufactured, not from medications containing fentanyl. 
  • Taken together, 19,885 Americans lost their lives in 2015 to deaths involving primarily illicit opioids: heroin, synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl), or a mixture of the two.
  • Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, excluding the category predominated by illicit fentanyl, rose only slightly from 16,941 in 2014 to 17,536 in 2015, a 4% increase.
  • NOTE: A portion of the overdose deaths involved both illicit opioids and prescription opioids.

To address the opioid epidemic, the Office of National Drug Control Policy works with Federal agencies to expand community-based drug prevention efforts; educate prescribers on the risks involved with opioid prescribing; train health care providers to identify early signs of an opioid use disorder; expand use of prescription drug monitoring programs; expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those with opioid use disorders; provide recovery supports; increase access to naloxone to overturn an opioid overdose; and work with international partners to reduce the supply of heroin.

For more information on opioids, including treatment for individuals with opioid use disorders visit: