Drug overdose deaths among teenagers surged during the COVID-19 pandemic
A new CDC report found that monthly drug overdose deaths nearly tripled among adolescents age 10 to 19 years during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deaths increased from 31 to 87 per month from July 2019 to May 2021 before declining to 51 per month in December 2021.
“Although deaths appear to have begun declining in late 2021, they are still alarmingly higher than in 2019,” wrote the study authors in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
More than 2,200 adolescents fatally overdosed during the 2.5-year period, 96% of whom were teens aged 15 to 19 years. Fentanyl was implicated in 84% of the deaths, while opioid analgesics of any type were involved in 91%.
Among adolescents, fentanyl deaths more than tripled from 31 per month in July 2019 to a peak of 87 per month in May 2021, declining to 44 per month in December 2021. Approximately 70% of the fatalities were among males and 30% in females. Roughly 60% of those who died were white, 21% were Hispanic, and 13% were Black.
An estimated 25% of the adolescent overdose deaths may have involved counterfeit drugs resembling oxycodone (OxyContin—Purdue Pharma) or alprazolam (Xanax—Pfizer). Both often contain fentanyl.
“Whether adolescents intended to take legitimate pharmaceutical medications or were aware pills were counterfeit is unclear,” the authors wrote.
Roughly 41% of those who overdosed had a prior history of mental health issues, with about 24% reporting prior mental health treatment; 19% diagnosed with depression; and 15% had a prior history of suicidal or self-harm behavior.
The authors stressed the importance of teaching teenagers about the risks of fentanyl and its likelihood of contaminating counterfeit drugs.