The U.S. continues to see overwhelming numbers of drug overdose deaths, but one of the most jarring statistics is the number of adolescents dying from overdoses every month, reports Ty Schepis for The Conversation, a journalistic platform for academics. "Drug overdoses are killing young Americans in unprecedented numbers: The monthly total rose from 31 in July 2019 to 87 in May 2021, the period with the most recent data. As a scholar of substance use who focuses on patterns that vary between age groups, I’m struck by how adolescents’ overdose deaths differ from adults’ in terms of gender, race and ethnicity and the drugs causing these fatalities."

Who is dying? "When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data for Americans 10 to 19 years old, it found that, as is the case for adults, most adolescents dying from drug overdoses are male. However, the share of girls among these fatalities is larger than the share of women," Schepis writes. "More than twice as many boys who are tweens or teens are dying of a drug overdose for every girl in that age group."

Which drug is most involved in teen overdose deaths? Fentanyl. "For teens, 84% of fatal overdoses involved fentanyl, and 56% of all overdoses involved only fentanyl," Schepis explains. "Many adolescents accidentally take fentanyl when they ingest counterfeit pills that they believe are prescription opioids or stimulants, or other illicit drugs that are laced with the drug. . . .In 67% of adolescent overdose deaths, a bystander was present who could have intervened. Naloxone was administered in less than half of cases where a bystander was present."

Is there a common thread among adolescent overdose deaths? Schepis reports, "Little or no prior drug use. Only 1 in 10 teens and tweens who died from a drug overdose had a history of treatment for a substance use problem, and only 1 in 7 had ever experienced a prior nonfatal overdose. . . . This pattern underscores the importance that all parents proactively talk with their children about substance use by the time they are 12 years old."

Read the full article about teens dying from substance abuse in rural areas by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.