Teen Overdose Deaths Have Doubled

Teen overdose deaths have doubled in just three years, a concerning trend that has emerged amidst a historic decline in drug and alcohol use among high school students. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, is the primary cause of this rise in deaths, as drug traffickers lace counterfeit pills with the drug to boost the black-market high. These pills are often designed to look like less potent prescription medications, leading teenagers to consume lethal doses of the drug unwittingly.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug and alcohol use among children aged 15 to 19 rose from 788 in 2018 to 1,755 in 2021. Fentanyl is the leading cause of adolescent overdose death, with the number of deaths from black-market fentanyl and related synthetics rising more than twenty-fold between 2010 and 2021, from 38 to 884, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Benzodiazepines, a class of depressants, are the second leading cause of adolescent overdose death, claiming 152 lives in 2021, less than one-fifth of fentanyl’s toll. Experts have noted that if fentanyl were removed from the drug supply, teen overdose deaths would plummet.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has proliferated on the underground market of counterfeit pills for the past several years. The drug is inexpensive, easily manufactured, and powerfully addictive, making it the narcotic of choice for drug traffickers and dealers. Because of its potency, fentanyl can trigger a fatal overdose in much smaller quantities than less potent drugs.

The problem with black-market fentanyl is that, in many cases, teenage customers do not know they are buying it. The drug has been found in many products, including marijuana and pills that look like regulated medications. Adolescents are well aware of the dangers of opioid addiction, but they may be unaware that they are consuming fentanyl.

The rise in teen overdose deaths mirrors a more significant crisis in child mortality that has startled the public health community. It is essential to address this issue by increasing awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and by cracking down on drug traffickers and dealers profiting from this lethal drug.