September 19, 2022

Unintentional drug overdoses spiked in adolescents during COVID-19

By: Judy Mathias

Editor's Note

This study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine, Columbus, finds that the first year of COVID-19 saw a 113% increase in “Years of Life Lost” (YLL) among adolescents and young people in the US because of unintentional drug overdoses.

Among the findings:

  • The majority of deaths (81%) involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in 2020, compared to 67% in 2019.
  • Males had a 121% increase in YLL from 2019 to 2020, and females had a 95% increase.
  • The group with the highest YLL in 2020 was 19-year-old males (98% increase), and the single age group with the largest percent change was 13-year-old males at 600%.
  • From 2019 to 2020, greater changes in YLL were seen in those 15-years-of-age and below, including a 300% increase in 11-year-old males and 14-year-old females.

For the first time in 2020, adolescent mortality because of unintentional drug overdose surpassed deaths from cancer. These alarming trends illustrate the need for local and state interventions to address increasing premature deaths and the impact on their communities, the researchers say.


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