University of Wisconsin–Madison

Reducing overdose deaths

Overdose death happens when a person deliberately or accidentally misuses an illicit or prescription opioid. People who use heroin and those who use opioids for pain management are at risk for overdose.

The CDC reports that In 2018, an average of 41 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, totaling nearly 15,000 deaths.1  While prescription opioids were involved in 32% of all opioid overdose deaths in 2018, there was a 13.5% decrease in prescription opioid-involved death rates from 2017 to 2018.

See: How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across America

Buprenorphine reduces overdose deaths

Research shows that medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine, as part of a comprehensive substance use disorder treatment plan, can help reduce the risk of overdose.

Increasing treatment with buprenorphine reduced heroin-related overdose deaths in Baltimore. 2

Opiate overdose deaths have declined by 79% since buprenorphine was introduced in France in 1995. 3

In a retrospective effectiveness study, methadone and buprenorphine were associated with reduced overdose and opioid-related morbidity compared with other forms of treatment.4



Page update: 09/25/2020


  1. Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, et al. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths—United States, 2017-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:290-297.
  2. Schwartz, R. P., Gryczynski, J., O’Grady, K. E., Sharfstein, J. M., Warren, G., Olsen, Y., … & Jaffe, J. H. (2013). Opioid agonist treatments and heroin overdose deaths in Baltimore, Maryland, 1995–2009. American journal of public health, 103(5), 917-922.
  3. Auriacombe, M., Fatséas, M., Dubernet, J., Daulouede, J. P., & Tignol, J. (2004). French field experience with buprenorphine. American Journal on Addictions, 13(sup1), S17-S28.
  4. Wakeman, S. E., Larochelle, M. R., Ameli, O., Chaisson, C. E., McPheeters, J. T., Crown, W. H., … & Sanghavi, D. M. (2020). Comparative effectiveness of different treatment pathways for opioid use disorder. JAMA Network Open3(2), e1920622-e1920622.
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