"From January–June 2020 to July–December 2022, the number of overdose deaths with evidence of smoking doubled, and the percentage of deaths with evidence of smoking increased across all geographic regions. By late 2022, smoking was the predominant route of use among drug overdose deaths overall and in the Midwest and West regions. Increases were most pronounced when IMFs were detected, with or without stimulants. Increases in the number and percentage of deaths with evidence of smoking, and the corresponding decrease in those with evidence of injection, might be partially driven by 1) the transition from injecting heroin to smoking IMFs [Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl] (3,4), 2) increases in deaths co-involving IMFs and stimulants that might be smoked†††† (1), and 3) increases in the use of counterfeit pills, which frequently contain IMFs and are often smoked (7). Motivations for transitioning from injection to smoking include fewer adverse health effects (e.g., fewer abscesses), reduced cost and stigma, sense of more control over drug quantity consumed per use (e.g., smoking small amounts during a period versus a single injection bolus), and a perception of reduced overdose risk among persons who use drugs (3,5,8). These motivations might also signify lower barriers for initiating drug use by smoking, or for transitioning from ingestion to smoking; compared with ingestion, smoking can intensify drug effects and increase overdose risk (9). Despite some risk reduction associated with smoking compared with injection (e.g., fewer bloodborne infections), smoking carries substantial overdose risk because of rapid drug absorption (5,9).

"Nearly 80% of overdose deaths with evidence of smoking had no evidence of injection; persons who use drugs by smoking but do not inject drugs might not use traditional syringe services programs where harm reduction messaging and supplies are often provided. In response, some jurisdictions have adapted harm reduction services to provide safer smoking supplies or established health hubs to expand reach to persons using drugs through noninjection routes.§§§§ In addition, harm reduction services (e.g., peer outreach and provision of fentanyl test strips for testing drug products and naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses), messaging specific to smoking drugs, and linkage to treatment for substance use disorders can be integrated into other health care delivery (e.g., emergency departments) and public safety (e.g., drug diversion) settings.

"The percentage and number of deaths with evidence of injection decreased across regions and drug categories. Observed decreases might reflect transitions to noninjection routes and response to public health efforts to reduce injection drug use because of its risk for overdose and infectious disease transmission (3,4,10). Despite these declines, more than 4,000 drug overdose deaths had evidence of injection during July–December 2022. Syringe services programs help to engage persons who use drugs in services (10); sustained efforts to provide sterile injection supplies, additional harm reduction tools, and linkage to treatment for substance use disorders, including medications for opioid use disorder, are important for further reduction in the number of overdose deaths from injection drug use. Lessons learned from implementing syringe services programs could be applied to other harm reduction and outreach models to reach more persons who use drugs by any route."


Tanz LJ, Gladden RM, Dinwiddie AT, et al. Routes of Drug Use Among Drug Overdose Deaths — United States, 2020–2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2024;73:124–130. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7306a2