A recent study from Ohio State University has found that adolescents and teenagers, ages 10 to 19, cumulatively lost nearly 200,000 years of life due to unintentional drug overdoses from 2015 to 2019, a number that grew to more than 1.25 million years lost once researchers expanded the study to 10- to 24-year-olds, reports USA Today. Health experts say that the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise of fentanyl, may have worsened the crisis for younger people.
Opioids are the main driver of drug overdose deaths, and fentanyl is playing a leading role as it is increasingly being sold illicitly and mixed with other street drugs. Provisional CDC data shows teen deaths caused by fentanyl have tripled in just two years, and the non-profit Families Against Fentanyl reports that deaths due to the drug have increased from 374 among teens ages 13 to 19 in the year ending in May 2019 to 1,365 deaths in the 12 months ending in May 2021.
Drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, so teens and young adults may not know they’re using it. Health experts say existing interventions aimed at adults may not work in younger populations and the university study authors argue more research is needed to determine how to best engage younger people with education, prevention, harm reduction and substance treatment, as well as community and family support.