Combating a new surge of teen overdose and drug abuse

Combating a new surge of teen overdose and drug abuse

(District of Columbia) More focus on prevention and early intervention is needed to curb soaring drug-related deaths among teens and young adults, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Trust for America’s Health found that males between the ages of 12 to 25, are more than twice as likely to die of a drug overdose than the rest of the population.

In five states fatal encounters with drugs over the past 12 years have quadrupled while the rate of overdose in 30 more states has doubled or tripled during the same period.

“More than 90 percent of adults who develop a substance use disorder began using before they were 18,” Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, said in a statement. “Achieving any major reduction in substance misuse will require a reboot in our approach – starting with a greater emphasis on preventing use before it starts, intervening and providing support earlier and viewing treatment and recovery as a long-term commitment.”

Results from the study align with a 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health that found more than 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs each day, often beginning as an addiction to medications prescribed legally to manage pain, anxiety or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in 15 people who take pain medication not prescribed to them will try heroin within 10 years.

This most recent report from the Trust for America’s Health, “Reducing Teen Substance Misuse: What Really Works,” substantiates those numbers, adding that 45 percent of people who use heroin are also addicted to prescription painkillers.

Teens with more resources – often from affluent families or neighborhoods – typically have more access to addictive substances and report more frequent substance and alcohol use than their lower-income peers. This was found to be especially true with the use of e-cigarettes, which 13 percent of high school students report using.

The study highlights 10 different policies that it says can help curb the rates of substance abuse among young adults that include limiting access, improving early intervention and recovery efforts, and providing emotional support to students.

Policies include:

  • Passing legislation that makes establishments that sell or provide alcohol to underage or obviously intoxicated individuals liable to pay damages to anyone then injured by the drunken patron;
  • Providing a degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for an individual seeking help for themselves or others experiencing an overdose;
  • Having explicit billing codes within medical health programs dedicated to screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment; and
  • Increasing mental health services for teens and young adults.

In addition to implementing such policies, researchers recommended states consider the integration of school-based and community efforts to further reduce substance use and increase treatment options. Such collaboration would give communities a clearer picture of their specific issues and allow for more targeted programs to be implemented.

West Virginia currently has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths for 12-to 25-year-olds, with almost 13 fatalities per 100,000 people. Following closely are New Mexico, Utah, Pennsylvania and Nevada. North Dakota had the lowest rate at approximately two deaths, followed by South Dakota and Nebraska.

Kansas, Montana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming are among the states where the rates of overdose-related deaths have quadrupled.