Teenage deaths from drug overdoses skyrocketed as the fentanyl epidemic spread.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths from drug overdoses rose sharply among teenagers. Most of these deaths were caused by illegal fentanyl.
During the first two years of the pandemic, the number of 10- to 19-year-olds who died each month from a drug overdose almost tripled. Deaths went from 31 in July 2019 to 87 in May 2021 and then down to 51 in December 2021.
The authors of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which came out Thursday, wrote, “Deaths appear to have started going down in late 2021, but they are still alarmingly higher than in 2019.”
Over the course of 212 years, more than 2,200 teenagers overdosed, and 96% of them were between the ages of 15 and 19. 84% of the deaths were caused by fentanyl, and 91% were caused by opioids of any kind.
From 21 in July 2019 to a peak of 78 in May 2021 and then a drop to 44 in December 2021, the number of teen deaths caused by fentanyl nearly quadrupled.
About 70% of the people who were killed were boys, and about 30% were girls. About 60% of those who died were white, 21% were Hispanic, and 13% were black.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. In the U.S., doctors prescribe it to people who are in a lot of pain after surgery. But illegally made fentanyl, which is often taken as a pill, is a growing cause of overdose deaths.
There was evidence that fake pills that often look like OxyContin or Xanax but often contain fentanyl were involved in 25% of teen overdose deaths. According to the study, this is probably an underestimation because pills found at crime scenes weren’t always tested.
“It is not clear if the teens meant to take real pharmaceutical drugs or if they knew the pills were fake,” the authors wrote.
About 41% of people who overdosed had mental health problems in the past. Some 24% had been treated for mental health problems before, 19% had been diagnosed with depression, and 15% had tried to kill or hurt themselves in the past.
The CDC study’s authors said it’s important to teach teens about the dangers of fentanyl and make it easier for them to get naloxone, a drug that can reverse an overdose. Teens should also be told that illegal fentanyl could be in pills that look like prescription drugs.