Youth Drug Overdose Deaths Are On The Rise

Rates of youth drug overdose have doubled in 18 states and tripled in 12 states since 1999, new report reveals

Nov 20, 2015 at 1:54 PM ET

Drug overdose deaths are at a ten-year high for youth ages 13 to 25, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). The report tracks drug overdose mortality rates for all 50 states since 1999, and it reveals that rates have doubled for this age group in 18 states and tripled in 12 states since 1999.

In 2013, the most recent year for which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides data, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in Americans of all ages. Of the nearly 23,000 prescription drug-related overdose deaths that year, over 70% involved opiod painkillers. The new report from TFAH suggests that the recent uptick in abuse of prescription painkillers may indeed be driving the rise in overdose death for youth, specifically. “The increase in youth drug overdose deaths is largely tied to increases in prescription drug misuse and the related doubling in heroin use by 18- to 25-year-olds in the past 10 years—45 percent of people who use heroin are also addicted to prescription painkillers,” according to a November 19 press release from TFAH.

The rise is startling. Researchers analyzed youth mortality rates (the number of deaths per 100,000 youth and young adults) since 1999. They found that, between 1999 and 2001, not a single state had a drug overdose death rate in this age group higher than 6.1 per 100,000. But by 2005-2007, 40 states had seen a marked increase in drug overdose deaths and by 2013, West Virginia’s young adult mortality rate stood at an alarming 12.6 deaths per 100,000, the highest in the U.S.

There’s no way to tell whether some of these rates have legitimately risen, or whether health officials have simply become more rigorous about reporting drug-related deaths since 1999. Regardless of the specific numbers, however, it’s hard to deny that there seems to be a trend here—and it’s not a good one.

Broadly, the report suggests a three-tier approach to addressing the rise in overdose death, placing, “a greater emphasis on: 1) preventing use in the first place; 2) intervening and providing support earlier after use has started; and 3) viewing treatment and recovery as a sustained and long-term commitment.”

The study recommendations suggest that states may need to move beyond old standbys like D.A.R.E to curb drug-related deaths among youth. “We need to reboot with a next generation approach if we’re going to achieve any reduction in misuse,” says Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health.

“We need to move beyond ‘Just Say No’.”