Global Overdose Snapshot

Penington Institute’s inaugural Global Overdose Snapshot presents an overview of the international drug overdose crisis, highlighting a significant increase in overdose deaths over the last two decades across ever corner of the world.

There is an international crisis of drug overdose. Over the last twenty years drug overdose deaths have increased significantly in many parts of the world. Each year a record number of deaths are reported, predominantly driven by the misuse of opioids, often in combination with other drugs including benzodiazepines, stimulants and alcohol.

Overdose often happens accidentally, with many overdose deaths caused by multiple contributing drugs rather than a single substance. It is often a complicated and messy story involving the diversion of legally prescribed controlled substances, overprescribing, the infiltration of highly potent illicitly manufactured substances into drug markets, and a lack of trust and investment in proven methods of prevention and treatment.

Drug overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, will continue to expand beyond what is considered the epicentre in North America, deeply affecting individuals, families, and communities. Without question, the opioid epidemic – evolving with ever-more potent synthetic opioids and stimulants, often taken together – is reshaping life in North America and has the potential to do the same in other countries.

As illustrated clearly by the data contained in the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) World Drug Report 2022, the size of and attention given to the North American opioid epidemic has hidden the extent and severity of both fatal and non-fatal drug overdose throughout the rest of the world. The rise in overdose is due not only to the use of opioids but to a rise in drug use and the increased use of stimulants, most notably cocaine and methamphetamine, and synthetic drug types – most markedly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol.

Effective responses, needed now more than ever, are not being implemented to meet this growing challenge. For this to happen there needs to be greater recognition of both fatal and non-fatal overdoses in all countries. The impact of this global drug overdose crisis will continue to grow unless effective, proven responses are implemented.

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