The Battle Against Drug Overdose: Assessing Utah and U.S. Drug Fatality Rates

In Utah, drug fatalities have been the leading cause of injury deaths since 2002, outpacing firearm and motor vehicle fatalities. Since 1999, there have been almost a million drug fatalities nationwide, and every year, over 96,000 people in the U.S. die from drug overdoses. These staggering statistics underscore the importance of providing compassionate and targeted treatment for individuals grappling with substance use disorder (SUD).

Drug Overdose Fatalities in Utah

In Utah, the overdose death rate is 18.9 deaths out of every 100,000 residents, which is 8.7% lower than the national average. Still, deaths from overdoses in the state are increasing. Drug fatalities increased by 7% in 2020 compared to the year prior. This uptick comes after a marked reduction in drug deaths in Utah, most notably those attributed to prescription opioids and heroin. Since 2014, prescription opioid deaths have decreased by 37%, and the number of heroin fatalities has also been dropping since 2018. Although these types of opioid-related deaths have been falling throughout the state, the recent surge in overdose fatalities are mostly driven by the escalation of fentanyl use.

Utah’s Rising Fentanyl Death Rates 

In Utah, deaths involving fentanyl rose from 54 in 2019 to 122 in 2020, a 125% escalation. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has begun to overtake other opioids on the illicit drug market in recent years. Simple to produce, transport, and distribute, the drug is exponentially more potent than heroin and morphine – providing a profit incentive model for traffickers. 

The majority of Utah’s fatal fentanyl victims are younger than those of other opioids. Individuals ages 25 to 34 have the highest percentage of fentanyl fatalities. Until recently, the 35 to 44-year-old demographic was most affected by opioid overdose deaths. 

An Emerging Methamphetamine Epidemic in Utah

In addition to fentanyl, methamphetamine is plaguing the state. So much so that the Utah Drug Monitoring Initiative predicts that meth will likely be considered the next substance use crisis. 

For nearly two decades, most drug fatalities in Utah involved prescription opioids. However, in 2020, Utah deaths involving meth exceeded those attributed to prescription opioids. Additionally, individuals entering treatment in Utah most commonly reported ​​meth as their primary drug in 2020. Furthermore, 76% of those participating in Utah’s syringe exchange program reported using ​​meth within the past month.

National Drug Overdose Deaths

Just as Utah saw a minor decline in overdose deaths followed by a spike, the U.S. experienced a comparable pattern of fluctuation. Between 2018 and 2019, drug fatalities fell by 4.6% for the first time since 2012. However in 2020, the number of drug deaths rose by almost 30%. In 2021, overdoses killed more individuals than car accidents and suicides combined. The national overdose death rate is 21.6 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The U.S., Opioids, and Methamphetamine

Often identified as the most deadly class of drugs, opioids are present in 70% of drug fatalities. In 2017:

  • 28,466 deaths were fentanyl-related.
  • 17,029 deaths were prescription-opioid-related.
  • 15,482 deaths were heroin-related.

Between 2017 and 2018, deaths involving fentanyl increased by 10%. 

Data indicates meth use is also on an upswing throughout the country. Clinics reported an uptick of urine samples containing meth from 1.4% in 2013 to 4% in 2019. Overdose deaths involving stimulants, primarily methamphetamine, have similarly surged, from 12,122 in 2015 to 53,495 in 2021.

Combating Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Fighting Rising Overdose Deaths at Wasatch Crest

The harmful, dangerous, and potentially fatal nature of SUD is all too real. Every life lost to the condition is tragic, and with clinical care and sober support the deaths are also unavoidable. If you’re struggling with SUD, we’re here to help you change your life for the better by creating a strong foundation for lasting recovery. To learn more about our SUD treatment programs, reach out


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