Press "Enter" to skip to content

Drug overdose deaths data update

In 2017, I wrote a blog post about an activity designed to help students see how the number of drug overdose deaths have changed since 1968 using this interactive article from the New York Times. Carolyn Brown Kramer, via the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook group, asked for updated drug overdose statistics. After having your students complete the activity from that initial blog post, provide students with the most current drug overdose death data presented below.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a “Drug Overdose Deaths” statistics dashboard that is updated monthly based on the best available data. Keep in mind that the best available data are several months old. As I write this in March 2021, the latest data are for July 2020.

Line graph

Each data point in the line graph is a 12-month rolling total. For example, the number of drug overdose deaths reported for July 2020 are the number of drug overdose deaths that occurred between August 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020. The number of such deaths reported for June 2020 occurred between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Mouse over a data point to see the numbers.

In the line graph you will see both “predicted” data (circles) and “reported” data (solid line). As they explain on the dashboard page, “Drug overdose deaths often require lengthy investigations, and death certificates may be initially filed with a manner of death ‘pending investigation’ and/or with a preliminary or unknown cause of death.” For “reported” data, the investigation is complete. The “predicted” data include deaths that are “pending investigation.” Both reported and predicted data will change as those investigations are completed.

Ask your students to predict how the number of drug overdose deaths have changed in your state or District of Columbia, then change the jurisdiction to your location to show students the data.


For easy visual comparisons between states/District of Columbia, the map displays data by location based on the number of drug overdose deaths for the most recent month for which data are available compared to the data from a year earlier. At the time of this writing, the comparison is between July 2019 and July 2020. The colors depict percentage change between those two months. North Dakota and North Carolina were the only two states with a decrease in the number of reported drug overdose deaths, down 2.3% and 1.7%, respectively. Alaska reported no change. All other states reported an increase. The District of Columbia had the biggest change during that time period with an increase of 56.8% in number of reported drug overdose deaths (308 to 483).

Data Tables

Sortable data tables of the line graph data and the map data are available directly below the map.

Whatever you have selected as the jurisdiction for the line graph, those are the data that will be displayed in the first data table.

A word of caution

As you cover this very important topic with your students, remember that some—perhaps many—of your students has had someone they know die from a drug overdose. Or perhaps some of your students themselves came close to dying from a drug overdose. Always remembering that I’m talking about experiences my students have had helps me use language that is sensitive to the people behind the statistics.

Source: macmillan psych community