Highest Overdose & Drug Related Death Rates In The World

The United States has the number one spot for mortality rate related to drug overdose.
The United States has the number one spot for mortality rate related to drug overdose.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has recently released the latest numbers for countries with the highest number of drug overdoses per 1,000,000 inhabitants of a country. According to the study, the United States has the highest number of drug overdoses per 1 million inhabitants in the world. Iceland, El Salvador, and Sweden follow closely behind.

So why is it that some countries see more fatal drug overdoses than others? We take a lot at the possible reasons behind the numbers.

Countries With the Highest Drug Overdose Rates

United States

The United States has a large population, which has historically been targeted as the ideal market for drug cartels. In some areas of the country, poverty levels may be high enough to contribute to the population feeling helpless and depressed and therefore more likely to turn to drugs. The high rates of drug overdoses in the United States may be a direct reflection of the fact that the United States is currently going through an opioid crisis.


In Iceland, the consumption of drugs, particularly opiates, have increased considerably in recent years. It has been reported that this increase has been as high as 18% compared to decades prior. The high rate of overdosing has been linked to strict drug laws, which may make those suffering too nervous to reach out for help without fear of being prosecuted. Other factors, such as depression brought on by long, cold and dark winters, has also been linked to substance abuse.

It is important to note, however, that the Directorate of Health of Iceland cites a drug overdose rate of 75 per one million inhabitants, a number lower than what is reported by the UN. This number differs substantially from the numbers provided by the United Nations due to the methodology used by the United Nations to calculate rates, as the UN prefers to look at data per 1,000,000 people to make it easier to compare rates across countries. Iceland notably has a population of under one million. The UN has gained publicity for misrepresenting data before: in 2014, the UN notably miscalculated the amount of cannabis users in Iceland by reporting the number of users who had claimed to have tried cannabis once, drawing an inaccurately high number of cannabis users.

El Salvador

The Central American country of El Salvador has long been plagued by the illegal drug trade and the ease of access to drugs. The UN reported the overdose mortality rate in El Salvador to be 160.1 per one million people, which is among the world's highest. A lack of supportive infrastructure in El Salvador and severe poverty both attribute to the reliance on illicit substances.


In 2016, Business Insider reported that drug overdoses in Sweden had increased a staggering 770% percent since the year 1995. Strict penalties for drug users in Sweden have been singled out at possible reasons behind the high overdose rates, as criminalization can distract or prevent drug users from seeking the help and support that they need for recovery.

What Can Be Done About Drug Overdoses?

Factors behind drug overdoses vary from place to place, country to country and region to region. How the problem can be addressed is different in each country but in every country political action is a necessity as is treatment and the availability of affordable and non-judgmental treatment for those who need it. If a country can improve its economy and reduce crime rates while also applying policies that address and enforce illicit drug trafficking and drug use, mortality rates are likely to go down. Ultimately, cutting off supply, educating citizens and providing treatment seems to be the means by which to prevent higher rates from occurring.

Highest Overdose & Drug Related Death Rates In The World

RankCountriesOverdoses Per 1 Million Inhabitants
1United States of America245.8
3El Salvador160.1
4Sweden 124.5

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