Teen Drug Overdose Deaths Rising

Megan Brooks

August 16, 2017

After declining for several years, the drug overdose death rate among adolescents increased by 19% in 2015, according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The death rate due to drug overdose in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years more than doubled from 1999 to 2007 (from 1.6 to 4.2 per 100,000), declined by 26% from 2007 to 2014 (from 4.2 to 3.1 per 100,000), and then increased again in 2015 (from 3.1 to 3.7 per 100,000), Sally Curtain and colleagues with the NCHS Division of Vital Statistics report.

Among males in this age group, the drug overdose death rate nearly tripled from 1999 to 2007 (from 2.1 to 6.2 per 100,000), fell by 35% through 2014 (from 6.2 to 4.0), and then increased 15% in 2015 (from 4.0 to 4.6).

Among females, the drug overdose death rate nearly doubled from 1999 to 2004 (from 1.1 to 2.0 per 100,000), was generally stable for 2004 to 2013, and then increased 35% from 2013 (2.0) to 2015 (2.7).

The drug overdose death rate for males was consistently higher than for females from 1999 to 2015 and was 70% higher in 2015, the researchers report.

The majority of drug overdose deaths for both male and female adolescents in 2015 were unintentional (80.4%), although female deaths were more than twice as likely as male deaths to be suicides (21.9% vs 8.7%).

Death rates for drug overdoses among adolescents were highest for opioids, specifically heroin.

In the brief, the researchers caution that when interpreting these trends, it is important to remember that the total number of drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15 to 19 in 2015 was 772.

"This total number was smaller in some previous years. For each year, subgroup totals were even smaller. The relatively small numbers resulted in variability in rates, particularly in rates for specific drugs," they explain.

In addition, during the study period, the reporting of specific drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in adolescents aged 15 to 19 was not complete, and there was improvement in the reporting of these specific drugs. "Both of these phenomenon could have affected the trends, especially for some of the specific drugs described in this report," they note.

NCHS. Data Brief 282. Published online August 16, 2017. Full text


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