Premature Mortality Due to Overdose Rising Among US Adolescents

Years of life lost (YLL) is an epidemiologic tool that measures premature mortality. Researchers used nationally representative data to examine US trends in YLL due to unintentional overdose 2016–2020 among adolescents aged 10–19.

  • YLL due to unintentional overdose remained stable 2016–2019, and then more than doubled 2019–2020.
  • Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids other than methadone were involved in 81% of unintentional overdoses in 2020.

Comments: In the US, mortality from unintentional overdose is rising faster among adolescents than in any other age group, even as rates of unhealthy substance use (except for cannabis) are dropping. Adolescents are prone to impulsivity and risk-taking and are developmentally disposed to seek large neurological reward—all characteristics that promote substance use in this age group. Many adolescents who die of an unintentional overdose are victims of the increasingly contaminated illicit drug supply and do not have opioid use disorder. Novel strategies are needed to protect this group.

Sharon Levy, MD

Reference: Hermans SP, Samiec J, Golec A, et al. Years of life lost to unintentional drug overdose rapidly rising in the adolescent population, 2016–2020. J Adol Health. 2022;S1054-139X(22)00542-0.

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