A recent New England Journal of Medicine article shed light on the alarming overdose crisis among U.S. youth. Despite the decades long decline in the prevalence of youth substance use rates, overdose fatalities among 14 to 18-year-olds more than doubled between August 2019 and March 2020 and continues to intensify. In 2022, roughly 22 innocent kids died each week from a drug overdose, equivalent to the size of a classroom full of students.

Recent research on youth overdose fatalities revealed that the majority of youth who overdose do not have a reported substance use disorder. Examining data spanning from July 2019 to December 2021, researchers discovered that the majority of youth who died from an overdose, only 11 percent, had previously attended substance treatment, and 41 percent had a known mental health condition or prior mental health treatment. For those seeking treatment, the outlook is grim. A study on adolescent addiction treatment accessibility and cost found that:

  • Less than half of the contacted facilities treated patients under 18.
  • Nearly 60 percent of those were for-profit, costing triple the amount of non-profit facilities ($1211 compared to $395 per day).
  • The average monthly cost for a stay was over $26,000.
  • Non-profit facilities had longer wait times (31 days) compared to for-profits (19 days).
  • Only seven states had a facility that accepted Medicaid, had same day availability, and offered buprenorphine.

The youth overdose crisis mirrors that of adults, both fueled by counterfeit fentanyl-containing pills. A recent Public Safety Alert issued by the DEA revealed that 7 out of 10 counterfeit pills contain a deadly dose of fentanyl. While we have made great strides in reducing youth substance use, the changing landscape of drug policies, heightened drug potency, and the flooding of deadly counterfeit pills requires us to intensify and invest in prevention efforts like never before. Even a single experiment with substances can become a matter of life or death.

To promote awareness regarding the importance of building protective factors and reducing risk factors, explore and share our family-oriented resources here. Another valuable prevention tool is the One Choice Prevention initiative accessible here.