Pennsylvania’s Overdose Death Rate is Third Highest in Nation

Idaho Opioid Settlement

FILE - An arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. Idaho officials on Friday, May 13, 2022, agreed to a $119 million settlement with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors over their role in the opioid addiction crisis. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

By Ashley Adams

June 6, 2022

The commonwealth’s fatal overdose rate rose 3.5% from 2020 and emphasizes the growing problem of drug and opioid abuse in the state and the lack of an effective solution.

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for overdose deaths. Not exactly a distinction the commonwealth can be proud of.

According to the CDC, Pennsylvania’s overdose deaths rose 3.5% from 2020 to 2021. A total of 5,360 people died from overdoses in 2021, compared to 5,178 in 2020. Only California and Florida had more overdose deaths in 2021. 

The rise in overdose deaths emphasize the growing problem of drug and opioid abuse in the state, and the lack of an effective solution. In 2015, Pennsylvania had a death rate from drug overdoses of 26.2 per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. In 2020, it was 42.4 per 100,000.

Pennsylvania is set to receive $1.07 billion from a settlement agreement with pharmaceutical providers Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson over their role in fueling the nationwide opioid crisis. All 67 counties in the commonwealth opted to join the agreement earlier this year negotiated by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and other state attorneys general.

Money from the agreement must be used to address the opioid crisis, including substance use disorder treatment, distribution of the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and community outreach programs to combat addiction.

Each county in Pennsylvania will receive its share of the agreement amount through an initial payment this year and additional money spaced over the next 18 years. The amount each county will receive is based on metrics that measure the severity of the crisis—overdose deaths, rate of opioid use disorder hospitalizations, naloxone administrations, and opioids dispensed.


  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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