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Unintentional Overdose Deaths in U.S. Teens Spiked in 2020

Last Updated: September 22, 2022.

THURSDAY, Sept. 22, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Deaths due to unintentional overdose in U.S. teens reached an all-time high in 2020, according to a study published online Sept. 9 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Sarah Perou Hermans, M.D., from The Ohio State University in Columbus, and colleagues quantified the impact of overdose mortality in adolescents from 2016 to 2020 and assessed the role of illicitly manufactured fentanyl in rising overdose rates.

The researchers found that the number of adolescent years of life lost (YLL) to unintentional drug overdose in the United States more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 after remaining relatively stable between 2016 and 2019. YLL to unintentional overdose in 2020 reached 84,179, surpassing YLL to cancer. A majority of overdose deaths (81 percent) and 68,356 YLL in 2020 were due to synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, up from 67 percent (26,628 YLL) in 2019. In 2020, YLL to unintentional overdose was higher for boys (59,274) versus girls (24,905).

"The death of a single adolescent to accidental drug overdose is unacceptable," Hermans said in a statement. "We have sounded the alarm. Now it is time to start putting out the fire. We hope this study will spur public health officials into action. Our society has to prioritize these young lives."

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