Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Teen Drug Use Declines while Overdose Deaths Rise

Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills are killing occasional/recreational users

Fatal Drug Overdoses Among Teens Rise Dramatically

May 05, 2022

Huntsville, AL - May 5, 2022 - Fewer teens are using drugs, but the number dying from drug overdose has skyrocketed. Fatal overdoses among adolescents almost doubled from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020 – an increase of 94%.

Last year, there was another 20% increase in overdose deaths with 77% of those deaths involving the highly potent drug fentanyl. Fentanyl is the primary problem according to a study published by the American Medical Association. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

However, unlike in adult overdose deaths, it’s not fentanyl in heroin that is responsible for the deaths among teens, says Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is the fentanyl-laced counterfeit of the more popular prescription drugs that is killing teens - some who are experimenting for the first time, or are recreational users. Popular prescription drugs among teens are opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin or hydrocodone, and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium.

No More Scare Tactics

Dr. Volkow and her peers stress the urgency for parents, teachers, religious leaders and others close to teens to have frank, honest conversations with young people about the dangers of counterfeit drugs. For decades, young people were given a vague warning to "just say no" to drugs. Today we must educate them on the realistic overdose death toll of their peers - many who thought they were taking a prescription drug, but were actually taking a counterfeit laced with fentanyl.

Scare tactics seldom work with teenagers. Parents lose any trust built with children when they give a blanket statement similar to: “ecstasy will kill you.” The teenager undoubtedly knows a group of friends who used Molly (slang for ecstasy) at a party and showed up for school the next day.


Update You Child's Understanding of the Dangers

Sheila Vakharia of the Drug Policy Alliance confirmed that young people are buying what they think are legitimate prescription pills, but are actually buying pills made with pill presses bought on the internet. There is little oversight of the compounding process to make the pills so the amount of fentanyl varies dramatically from one pill to another. One pill may be harmless while another in the same batch may be deadly.

Parents must update their child's understanding that pills have become the most dangerous drug, Dr. Volkow said.

Children, parents and other adults should familiarize themselves with naloxone and the Good Samaritan Law. The chance of surviving an overdose depends on how quickly medical assistance is attained.

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids and is an antidote for opioid overdose. It is available without a prescription at most pharmacies.

The Good Samaritan Law protects witnesses to an overdose from prosecution if they call 911 for help. Studies showed that individuals were hesitate to call for help due to fear of police involvement. In an effort to encourage people to seek assistance, 47 states and the District of Columbia passed Good Samaritan Laws to protect the caller from prosecution in most cases. Find out more at the website for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.