Why Are Deaths From Overdoses In Teens On The Rise When Drug Use Is At Its Low?

Teen drug use took a sharp dive in 2021, according to a survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Researchers point out the fact that this may be due in part to the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the education and social activity of adolescents. Even though the teens surveyed reported an overall decrease in their mental health, substance use did not rise. NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow suggests there could be several reasons for this, including decreased peer pressure thanks to at-home schooling, a lack of accessibility to drugs, and more time spent with family.

It remains to be seen however if teen drug use increases once again as pandemic restrictions lift and life gets back to normal. Either way, experts suggest one of the best ways parents can ensure the safety of their teens is to create an open dialogue about harm reduction as it relates to drug use (via CNN). When parents engage in honest conversations about drugs, this can help teenagers make educated decisions that will keep them safe. Continuing these conversations is especially important as a startling new study has just come out reporting that even though teen drug use is at an all-time low, overdose rates are increasing.

The reason behind the increase in teen overdoses

Even though teen drug use significantly declined in 2021, a 2022 study published in JAMA found that teen overdose deaths rose by over 20% between 2020 and 2021. Study authors reported the reason for this is the addition of fentanyl to counterfeit pills that teens are buying on the street.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is an opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Initially intended for pain management for cancer patients, fentanyl is also added to illegal drugs to make them more potent, per DEA. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the dangers of fentanyl lie in the fact that it is virtually undetectable and that ingesting just a small amount can result in overdose and death. This was highlighted in the JAMA study, which found that fentanyl was the cause of 77% of overdose deaths in teens in 2021. Study authors highlighted the increased need for education focused on harm reduction as well as better access to Naloxone, used to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.