Feb 16, 2024 - Health

Smoking drugs now linked to more fatal overdoses than injections

A photo of a man smoking fentanyl outside, sitting down next to a suitcase.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Smoking has overtaken injections as the leading method of drug use in deadly overdoses, a new CDC analysis suggests.

Why it matters: The data points to the shifting nature of the U.S. drug epidemic, as more people using fentanyl and fentanyl analogs smoke rather than inject the powerful opioids.

What they found: Crime scene investigations, witness reports or autopsy data showed the share of overdose deaths with evidence of smoking increased 73.7% between the first half of 2020 and the second half of 2022, while the share of those with evidence of injection decreased 29.1%. Similar trends were found across the country.

  • The CDC noted that in about half of deaths there wasn't information about how the drug was consumed, and it can be harder to detect the method of drug use when injections aren't involved.
  • Over 109,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2022, with nearly 70% of the deaths involving synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl, according to preliminary data.

The big picture: Though smoking can reduce some risks like bloodborne infections compared with injection, the CDC said it carries a "substantial overdose risk because of rapid drug absorption."

  • The CDC said the new report highlights the importance of expanded public health messaging that emphasizes the overdose risk of smoking and other methods of drug use, as well as bolstered outreach and harm reduction services.
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