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Intentional vs. Unintentional Overdose Deaths

Revised February 2017

When a person dies because of a drug overdose, the medical examiner or coroner records on the death certificate whether the overdose was intentional (purposely self-inflicted, as in cases of suicide) or unintentional (accidental). Unintentional drug poisoning deaths include cases where:

  • a drug was taken accidentally
  • too much of a drug was taken accidentally
  • the wrong drug was given or taken in error
  • an accident occurred in the use of a drug(s) in medical and surgical procedures  

When overall drug overdoses are reported, intentional and unintentional overdoses are counted, along with drug poisonings inflicted by another person with intent to injure or kill, and overdoses in which the intent to harm cannot be determined.

The World Health Organization defines the codes for these categories as "the disease or injury which initiated the train of events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury." For drug overdose, the international classification of diseases (ICD-10) codes for these categories are:

  • X40-X44: accidental poisoning by and exposure to drug
  • X60-X64:  intentional self-harm
  • X85: assault
  • Y11-Y14: event of undetermined intent

For more information about cause-of-death data, visit wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/help/mcd.html.

For more information about overdose death rates, visit our Overdose Death Rates webpage at drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.

This page was last updated February 2017

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