The pandemic led to a spike in teenage overdose deaths

The pandemic led to a spike in teenage overdose deaths

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By Steven Reinberg

Health Day Reporter

TUESDAY, December 20, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Teenage drug overdose deaths rose sharply from late 2019, and while they appear to be declining, they remain much higher than 2019, U.S. health officials report.

Most of those deaths are due to illegally manufactured fentanyl mixed with other drugs, said study author Lauren Tanz, an epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Overdose deaths among adolescents increased significantly between 2019 and 2021; however, these deaths are preventable, and overdoses do not have to be fatal,” Tanz said. “We all have a role to play as parents, family members, friends and communities to prevent overdoses and save lives.”

Using data from the CDC’s State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System, the researchers found that overdose deaths among 10- to 19-year-olds began to increase in late 2019. Among 14-18 year olds, overdose deaths increased by 94% in 2019-2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on.

Between the second half of 2019 and the second half of 2021, monthly overdose deaths among teens increased by an average of 109%, Tanz said. Those with illegally manufactured fentanyl increased by 182%. (Median means half of the months had higher rates, half had lower rates.)

About 9 in 10 overdose deaths were linked to at least one opioid, more than 8 in 10 to illegally manufactured fentanyl, and nearly a quarter to counterfeit pills, the report said.

The availability of fentanyl, according to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, led to a rise in overdose deaths.

“In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the drug supply of illicit fentanyl, a cheap, very potent synthetic opioid drug,” she said. “While in some cases people will seek out fentanyl on purpose, many people are unaware if the medication they are using contains fentanyl, which can put them at high risk of overdose.”

The rise of fentanyl in the drug supply is of enormous concern, Volkow said, particularly the contamination of counterfeit pills resembling prescription drugs such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs, sleep aids or pain relievers.

“It’s absolutely critical to educate young people that pills purchased through social media, given to someone by a friend, or obtained from an unknown source can contain deadly fentanyl,” Volkow said.

Mental illness also contributed to the increase, Tanz said.

More than 40% of teens who died from a drug overdose had a history of mental illness, such as depression or suicidal or self-harming behavior, or had been treated for a mental illness, the researchers found.

“Our results show that adolescent overdose deaths continued to increase from January to June 2020, coinciding with the onset of the pandemic, and possibly related to deteriorating mental health,” Tanz said. Social isolation and lack of access to school-based mental health services may also have played a role.

Linda Richter, vice president of prevention research and analysis at the Partnership to End Addiction in New York City, said, “This report should be a wake-up call to all families, communities, educators, health professionals, policymakers, and young people themselves that what once was What was an opioid epidemic is now a fentanyl crisis, causing an unacceptable number of entirely preventable teenage deaths. She was not involved in the study but reviewed the results.

“These deaths are increasing as illicit drug use among youth in general is declining, suggesting that it is not more youth who are using dangerous drugs, but those who use the drugs that are more likely to die from it,” Richter said.

Volkow struck a similar chord.

“Drug use among youth is becoming more dangerous, but not necessarily more common,” she said.

Researcher Tanz said steps to prevent overdose deaths were urgently needed. These include:

promotion of prevention. Monitoring of risky behaviors, e.g. B. Teens’ poor academic performance and interactions with other drug users; Promotion of positive social and life skills; and improving well-being.Educating teenagers about the dangers of illegally manufactured fentanyl and counterfeit pills.Educating family and friends how to recognize warning signs of drug use.Learning how to respond to an overdose.Educating friends and family on its use of naloxone, a drug used to quickly reverse an opioid overdose, and expanded access to it. Ensuring access to effective treatment for mental health problems and substance abuse.

The study was published Dec. 16 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

More information

The US Department of Health and Human Services has more on preventing drug overdoses.

SOURCES: Lauren Tanz, ScD, MSPH, Epidemiologist, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Nora Volkow, MD, Director, US National Institute on Drug Abuse; Linda Richter, PhD, Vice President, Prevention Research and Analysis, Partnership to End Addiction, New York City; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, December 16, 2022

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