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  • Ryan Wittler

Adolescent Overdose Deaths Rose Exponentially for the First Time in History During the Pandemic


A new study from researchers at UCLA has found that the teen drug overdose death rate has risen exponentially for the first time in recorded history, despite rates of use among teens being “at all-time lows.”

Study highlights:

The researchers used CDC data to calculate drug overdose deaths per 100,000 adolescents aged 14 to 18 from January 2010 to June 2021.

The team found 518 overdose deaths, or a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 adolescents, in 2010, and a steady rate of 492 deaths (2.36 per 100,000) each subsequent year through 2019.

  • In 2020, however, the death rate nearly doubled, surging to 954 deaths (4.57), before rising to 1,146 (5.49) in 2021.

The overdose death rate among American Indian/Alaska Natives jumped from 4.86 per 100,000 in 2010 to 11.79 in 2021.

  • The death rate among Black adolescents was the lowest of any racial or ethnic group in the study, but still jumped from 0.70 in 2010 to 3.10 in 2021.

What’s behind it:

The researchers say the spike in drug deaths stems from the drugs themselves, not increased usage.

“Drug use is becoming more dangerous, not more common,” said lead author Joseph Friedman. “The increases are almost entirely due to illicit fentanyls, which are increasingly found in counterfeit pills.”

“Teens need to know that pills and powders are the highest risk for overdose, as they are most likely to contain illicit fentanyls,” Friedman added.

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