Fatal Opioid Overdoses are on the Rise Among Teens.
by Beth Davis
Drug addiction among Americans stands at almost one in every 10 people. The families and friends of the addicts are affected. Children are often exposed to hardships and poverty as a consequence of one or more caregivers being addicts. As a tragic result, a cycle is created where those growing up in households with adults engaging in substance abuse are at great risk of abusing drugs
and alcohol themselves.
Teen addiction is a precursor to adult addiction because people are not adopting rehab services at the rate at which they should. This is partly due to the slow adaptation of programs to incorporate mental health treatment into their recovery efforts. While many innovators in substance abuse treatment are providing exceptional mental health treatment for teenagers alongside addiction treatment, they are the exception and not the rule.
The current problem of opioid overdoses among teens is difficult for many people to understand due to the overarching good news that teen drug use rates have plummeted in recent years. How can more teens be overdosing if fewer teens are using drugs?
The reasons for this apparent paradox have to do with the types of drugs teens are using versus a decade or so ago. Marijuana and ecstasy dominated the list of drugs frequently used by teenagers in the past, and while notorious for being gateways to harder narcotics, they are virtually impossible to overdose from. In the last ten years or so, the number of teens using these and other "soft" drugs has declined, while still being more common than society would prefer.
Unfortunately, while teens are shying away from drug use in general, more of them are using opioids, which when taken in too great of quantity or with too great of frequency, can lead to overdose and death. While heroin is the notorious opioid of the streets frequently depicted on television and in movies, the list of potentially deadly opioids includes prescription medications as well as the exceptionally dangerous narcotic known as fentanyl.
If it's still confusing, consider the following hypothetical:
It's 2008 and there is a big house party with 100 young adults in attendance. Odds are about 40 of them are either smoking marijuana or consuming ecstasy. Two of the party-goers, however, have taken OxyContin, a prescription opioid. One of the two becomes addicted and goes on to overdose within five years. None of the people who consumed marijuana or ecstasy went on to overdose.
Fast forward to 2018. Once again there is a big house party with 100 young adults present, only this time 25 are smoking marijuana or consuming ecstasy, down by 15 from a decade ago. However, instead of just two party-goers taking opioids, the number has risen to eight. Three of the eight who take opioids will go on to develop an addiction and overdose. Once again, none of the partygoers who consumed marijuana or ecstasy will overdose.
While admittedly an oversimplification of the larger picture, this situation serves to demonstrate how the overall drug use numbers can drop while the opioid overdose figures simultaneously increase: 42% of the party in 2008 was doing drugs, but only 1% went on to overdose; 33% of the party in 2018 was doing drugs, and 3% went on to overdose.
Can society succeed in fighting back against this troubling trend? Only time will tell, but the aforementioned treatment facilities are fast at work trying to turn the tide, one teenager at a time.