Teen opioid overdose deaths skyrocketed due to fentanyl

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(NEW YORK) – Opioid overdose deaths among adolescents increased much faster than the general population between 2019 and 2021, according to a new study of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that deaths from opioid overdoses among adolescents aged 14 to 18 increased by 94% between 2019 and 2020 and an additional 20% between 2020 and 2021.

One specific driver of those deaths was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The researchers, from multiple institutions, found that fentanyl-related teenage overdose deaths jumped 350% during the study period. Overall, fentanyl was associated with 77% of teen overdose deaths in 2021.

In addition, some young people were at high risk. Opioid overdose deaths were higher among teens from Native American and Alaska Native and Latinx communities.

The findings come amid the widespread – and rapid – proliferation of fentanyl across the country.

According to the DEA, the number of positive forensic reports for fentanyl has skyrocketed in recent years, from less than 20,000 in 2015 to 117,045 in 2020. A recent National Institutes of Health study found that the number of individual fentanyl pills seized by law enforcement increased nearly 50-fold between the first quarter of 2018 and the last quarter of 2021.

Even though rates in adolescents have surpassed them, adults have not been spared the growing ubiquity of fentanyl. Interim data released by the CDC in March showed overdose deaths in all age groups had reached record highs, claiming the lives of nearly 106,000 Americans in the previous year.

These deaths were largely due to fentanyl.

A separate CDC study showed that of more than 100,000 people who died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021, nearly two-thirds were linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Overall, synthetic opioid-related deaths have nearly doubled among Americans of all ages in the past two years, according to interim data.

Advocates say the records of overdose deaths underscore the importance of adopting new strategies to tackle the opiate epidemic.

“Urgent action is needed to address the spiraling overdose crisis in the United States, including expanding access to opioid addiction treatment and investing in harm reduction,” the Commonwealth Fund wrote. , a nonprofit health care research organization, in a February report, “But these lifesaving tools continue to be underutilized and resistance remains strong in many parts of the country.

The study authors echoed these recommendations for young people in particular.

“The increase in adolescent overdose deaths, in the context of the growing availability of illicit fentanyls, highlights the need for accurate harm reduction education for adolescents and improved access to naloxone. and mental health and substance use services,” the authors wrote.

According to advice from the US Surgeon General, citizens also have an important role to play. The guidelines recommend individuals learn the signs of an opioid overdose – including slowed breathing and identifying pupils – and train in the use of naloxone, a powerful antidote for overdoses. of opioids.

“Knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it handy can save a life,” the guide says.

Eli Cahan, MS, is a contributor to ABC News’ medical unit. He is a fourth-year medical student at NYU School of Medicine and will begin his pediatric residency at UCSF in June.

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