The number of drug poisoning deaths among teens and young adults has increased between 5% percent to 15% each year between 2006 to 2015, according to the findings of new research that highlights the impact of the continuing opioid epidemic in the U.S.
In a study published last week in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation evaluated data from the National Vital Statistics System’s Multiple Cause of Death to analyze trends regarding drug overdoses and deaths.
The findings provide another indicator of a worsening opioid crisis across the country, as the powerful pain medications account for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths.
The rate of deaths from drug poisonings among teens and young adults increased from 8 per 100,000 people in 2006, to nearly 10 per 100,000 people by 2015.
Similarly, overdose deaths associated prescription painkillers and opioids, including heroin, increased 5% on average each year from 2006 to 2015. However, from 2013 to 2015, overdose deaths increased by more than 15% each year.
Overdose rates varied based on geographical regions. In the Midwest, overdose death rates increased 4.4% per year from 2006 to 2015. In the Northeast, death rates among teens and young adults increased by more than 11% from 2009 to 2015.
Additionally, the death rate in West Virginia was five times higher than the death rate in Nebraska, reaching 15 deaths compared to 3 deaths per 100,000 people. However, New York experienced the greatest increase in drug overdose deaths, with an annual increase of 9%.
Rates also increased at different levels for different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Overdose rates for African Americans increased by nearly 12% each year from 2009 to 2015. Comparatively, rates increased by 4.3% each year for Asian/Pacific Islanders and nearly 2% for Whites from 2006 to 2015.
The data indicates the increasing trend toward addiction and overdose of opioid painkillers. The opioid crisis has been largely driven by inappropriate doctor prescribing, especially without a documented pain diagnosis. Now, more people have easier access to prescription drugs and illicit drugs, including heroin or fentanyl.
Many drugs are laced with fentanyl, which increases the likelihood of unintentional overdose. Fentanyl accounts for more than 50% of fatal drug overdoses. Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, which makes it more likely for a user to overdose and die. Fentanyl was recently labeled the most dangerous drug in American because it is linked to more overdose deaths than any other drug.
The new study also estimated the costs of drug poisoning deaths among teens and young adults at more than $35 billion in 2015, including costs for ambulance services, hospital stays, and autopsies. Similarly, more than $9 billion goes to work loss costs each year and $27 billion for quality of life loss.
To help combat the epidemic, researchers emphasize the need for widespread strategies like prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug disposal programs, naloxone distribution programs, and medication assisted treatment. These prevention strategies are often underfunded and underused nationally, researchers said.