New research has found that teens are dying in record numbers from fentanyl-laced drugs!
According to the results of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), for the first time in a decade, overdose deaths among teens in the United States rose dramatically in 2020 and kept rising through 2021 as well.
“This is very alarming because what we’ve seen in other parts of the population is that when overdose death rates start to rise, they tend to continue to do so for quite some time,” says Joe Friedman, a public health researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the lead author of the new study.
“We’re still really in the early days in terms of teen overdose. And that makes this an especially important time to intervene,” he adds.
Friedman and his colleagues found that fatal overdoses among adolescents nearly doubled from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020, an increase of 94%. There was an additional 20% rise in 2021 compared to the previous year. The highest rates were among Native American and Alaskan Native teens, followed by Latino teens.
“For decades, we’ve seen overdose rates rising among adults, and teens have been insulated from that,” says Friedman. “And now, for the first time, the overdose crisis is reaching teens as well.”
The researcher found that what is driving the rise in overdose deaths among teens is not increased drug use but the introduction of more dangerous drugs to the “party scene,” particularly “recreational drugs” that have been laced with the deadly chemical fentanyl.
“The increases are almost entirely due to illicit fentanyl, which are increasingly found in counterfeit pills,” Friedman said. “These counterfeit pills are spreading across the nation, and teens may not realize they are dangerous.”
Researchers used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online data focused on epidemiology to calculate drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population for adolescents aged 14 to 18 years from January 2010 to June 2021.
They found 518 deaths, or a rate of 2.4 per 100,000, among that group in 2010 and 492 deaths – a steady rate of 2.36 per 100,000 – each subsequent year through 2019.
In 2020, there was a sharp increase to 954 deaths – 4.57 per 100,000 – rising to 1,146 deaths – 5.49 per 100,000 – in early 2021.
Fake versions of prescription drugs – which can be dangerously laced with fentanyl – such as Xanax, Percocet, and Vicodin, whose strength can fluctuate, also contributed to the increase in overdose deaths, Friedman noted.
“Teens urgently need to be informed about this rising danger,” Friedman said. “Accurate information about the risk of drugs needs to be presented in schools.”
Some of that information, he said, includes warnings that pills and powders pose the highest risk for overdose, as they are most likely to contain illicit forms of fentanyl. They also should be told that pills and powders can be tested for the presence of fentanyl using testing strips, which are becoming more widely available.
In addition, access to naloxone, which can reverse overdoses, is needed in schools and places frequented by teens, he said.
Experts said illicit fentanyl use is becoming more prevalent among teens on the West Coast especially.
Parents need to take the lead in stepping up in educating their kids about the dangers of fentanyl-laced pills and warn their kids – as tempting as it may be – do not take any pills offered at raves and other such parties. Even a small amount of fentanyl can cause death, and it’s just not worth the risk.