There has been no shortage of depressing headlines tied to America's opioid epidemic, and to that list we can add one more: A new study has found that the number of teens who died from overdoses climbed by nearly 20% in 2015 after declining for seven straight years, according to the Guardian. But while men represent two-thirds of all drug-related deaths, the recent climb in teenage fatalities has been disproportionately driven by women, as the Guardian explains.
“The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls. Deaths among teenagers represent a tiny portion of drug overdose deaths nationally – less than 2%.”
Last week, President Donald Trump informally declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, and pledged to formulate a plan of action to curb the rising death toll. Presumably, the administration will follow some, if not all, of the recommendations made by a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the commission offered a few strategies for combating the epidemic in a preliminary report released earlier this summer. The recommendations include granting Medicaid waivers to all 50 states, allowing them to quickly eliminate barriers to drug treatment, and funding a federal incentives program to increase access to medication-assisted treatment programs.
The study's authors said they wanted to document the falling death rate among teenagers. However, it appears the data had other plans.
“We wanted to document that in this age group there had been a decline [in deaths],” said Sally Curtin, lead author of the study. “The trends were unique for this age group. But, once again, it did increase again between 2014 and 2015.”
The rate of teenage drug-related deaths declined by 27% between 2007 and 2014 even as the rate for all Americans skyrocketed. But most of that decline was reversed by the jump in fatalities that occurred during 2015. Like the broader crisis, the surge in teenage deaths has been driven by powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil which can be as much as 100 times more powerful than morphine.
The report looked at the rate of overdose deaths for teens aged 15-19 between 1999 and 2015. Researchers found the rate of teens who died from a drug overdose dropped 26% between 2007 and 2014. Among boys, the death rate fell by one-third. But in 2015, the rate of overdoses among American teens increased by almost one-fifth. That year, 772 teens died of drug overdoses. The number of deaths in 2014 was 658, according to the Guardian.
You will find more statistics at Statista
While the rate of teen boys overdosing dropped dramatically in the last decade, the rate of overdoses among girls held steady and then increased in the last two years. As one might expect, the fall in rates of drug-related deaths mirrored a decline in rates of drug use among teens – a trend that has persisted for nearly two decades.
“Indeed, fewer teens reported even trying drugs. A 40-year-running, nationally representative survey called Monitoring the Future recently recorded the lowest rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use among middle and high school students since the 1990s.
The trend prompted researchers to question whether smartphones might be replacing the inclination of previous generations of teens to abuse drugs.”
The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls, who were twice as likely to die from intentional overdoses than their male peers.
“Traci Green, a professor at Brown University School of Medicine who studied the drug use habits of college-aged Rhode Islanders, said that the study reflects “a very messy use environment” in which heroin may be tainted with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, fentanyl may be pressed into illegal pills, and users may mix drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines (typically used to treat anxiety).
“It is of course very upsetting and worth thinking about what is happening with our young people – your young men and your young women,” Green said. Deaths among “young women, we have known for a long time, happen for different reasons and present differently”.
Though the data examined in the study predates their deaths, two 13-year-old boys in the Utah ski-resort town of Park City died late last year after ingesting a synthetic opioid called U-47700, better known as “pinky.” It’s believed the boys obtained the drug legally by ordering it from a Chinese lab over the internet.
Their deaths made national news, and drew attention to what’s probably the most significant cause of the spike in teenage deaths: The fact that, thanks to the dark web, it’s now easier than ever for teens to order deadly drugs over the internet and have them shipped straight to their home.