DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment Shows Decrease in Drug Overdose Deaths


The National Drug Threat Assessment reveals important information about drug threats in the United States.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently released its newest National Drug Threat Assessment, an annual report that provides detailed information about drug threats posed to the United States.1 Additionally, the report includes abuse and trafficking trends for prescription and illegal drugs with data provided from different sources including drug seizures, laboratory analyses, and surveys across the US.1

Pharmacists can play an important role in drug abuse awareness and education.

Report Key Findings

One of the most promising findings is that there was a decline in drug overdose deaths of over 4% overall, with even greater decreases, over 13%, in overdoses from controlled prescription opioids.1,2 This is most likely the result of new regulations, lower production quotas, and prescribing guidelines that have decreased the overall amount of opioid dosage units available in the community setting.2

DEA quotas for the 7 most common opioids (oxycodone, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl base) decreased almost 47% from 2016 to 2018.2 In February 2019, the DEA released an enhancement to the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System so that distributors have more detailed information to identify “red flags” for unusual amounts of opioids.2

The opioid threat is still plaguing the country, so it is important to be vigilant. Pharmacists should continue to closely monitor their state prescription drug monitoring program when dispensing controlled substance prescriptions.

The report also revealed that 53.1% of people that misuse prescription pain relievers obtained their most recently misused controlled substance prescriptions from a friend or relative for free, in exchange for payment, or via theft.2 Pharmacists can also educate patients about appropriate drug disposal to prevent prescription drug abuse.

Other important findings include that fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids, primarily from China and Mexico, are considered the most deadly types of illegal substances abused in the US. Fentanyl is being sold as counterfeit prescription pills, and it is involved in more deaths than any other illegal drug.2 Heroin is also responsible for a large amount of overdose deaths in the US. Methamphetamine and cocaine use has become more widespread across the country. Most methamphetamines available in the US are produced in Mexico. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and is the most commonly used illicit drug in the US. However, more states have passed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. New psychoactive substances, such as synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones, have grown globally but remain a lower threat in the US compared to other illicit drugs.2

Pharmacists should educate patients about the dangers of drug abuse, and counseling should be conducted when individuals pick up their prescriptions in the community setting. Medication therapy management consults are also a great way to inquire about substance abuse. Pharmacists can also educate the youth and parents in the school setting about drug abuse awareness.


  • CDC Says US Life Expectancy Rises for First Time in 4 Years, Report Fewer Cancer and Drug Overdose Deaths


  • DEA releases 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment [news release]. Springfield, VA; January 30, 2020: DEA website. Accessed January 31, 2020.
  • DEA. 2019 Drug Enforcement Administration National Drug Threat Assessment. DEA website. Accessed January 31, 2020.

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