When it comes to teens and drugs, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that, with the exception of cannabis and inhalant misuse, teen drug use is near an all-time low. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of teen overdoses. In fact, teen drug overdoses are near an all-time high. Even worse, many of these overdoses lead to death. If you are a teen or have a teen, understanding substance abuse and overdose is crucial.
Teen Drug Overdose Statistics
In 2017, almost 5,500 young people aged 15 through 24 years died from an overdose in the United States. Boys and men made up nearly 70% of overdose deaths. The vast majority of teen overdose deaths, more than 80%, are accidents. This is particularly true of male teen overdose victims. However, not all overdose deaths are unintentional. About 13.5% of overdose deaths are ruled to be suicides.
After 1999, the rate of teen overdose deaths started to rise. In fact, the teen overdose death rate more than doubled between 1999 and 2007. After 2007, the overdose death rate had started to fall. Unfortunately, however, this trend did not last. In 2015, the teen overdose death rate spiked to 3.7 out of every 100,000 deaths. In 2016, the rate rose yet again, to 4.1 out of every 100,000 deaths. As of 2016, the rate of teen overdose deaths was two and a half times higher than it was in 1999.
The increase in teen overdose deaths is part of the larger opioid epidemic that is happening in the United States. In fact, the rate of fatal teen overdoses from opioids tripled between 1999 and 2015. Opioids alone are responsible for 2.4 out of every 100,000 teen deaths. The overdose death rate from other substances like benzodiazepines and stimulants has also increased since 1999. However, these substances cause far fewer overdose deaths than opioids. It is important to note that not all drugs have led to an increase in death rates. For example, overdose rates from cocaine have been stable more or less since 1999.
Almost 2% of the overdose deaths in 2017 among young people were from alcohol. These numbers are especially worrisome because excessive drinking is common among teens. In fact, over the past month, about 18% of seniors in high school admitted to drinking enough to get drunk. The severity of teen alcohol poisoning can depend on factors like:
- Weight: the lower your weight, the higher your risk may be of alcohol poisoning because alcohol has less space to diffuse within the body.
- Biological sex: women are at a higher risk of alcohol overdose because they produce less of the chemicals that break down alcohol and tend to be smaller.
- Overall health: some health conditions, especially ones that cause abnormally low levels of the chemicals that break down alcohol, may increase your risk of alcohol overdose.
- Drug interactions with alcohol: some medications can increase your risk of alcohol overdose because they interfere with the rate that your body gets rid of the substance.
- If alcohol was consumed on an empty stomach or after eating: Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to absorbing the alcohol more quickly. In turn, this may increase the risk of alcohol poisoning.
- How quickly the alcohol was consumed: the shorter the time in which the alcohol is consumed, the higher the risk of alcohol overdose.
Prescription Drug Overdose
Prescription drugs caused many overdose deaths among young people in 2017. Although illegal opioids caused the majority of overdose deaths, most of the remaining overdoses were from legal controlled substances like benzodiazepines and prescribed opioids. Benzodiazepines led to almost 19% of the overdose deaths among young people that year. Likewise, prescription opioids led to just over 19% of that year’s overdose deaths. To prevent prescription drug abuse, it is important to keep an eye on a teen’s social contacts. Nearly half of teens who misuse prescription pain relievers got them from a friend or family member.
Luckily, not all prescription drug overdoses end in death. Prompt medical attention after an overdose can help to save lives. For every young person who dies from a prescription drug overdose, another 122 goes to the emergency room and 22 are admitted for medical help.
It is hard to predict whether or not someone will overdose on a particular drug. In general, the higher the dose, the greater the chance of overdose. However, it is impossible to say how many pills it takes to overdose. The risk of overdose is often higher if more than one drug is used. For example, using a benzodiazepine and an opioid together may increase the risk of overdose compared to either drug on its own. Prescription drug overdose symptoms can vary depending on which drug was used, or if multiple drugs were used.
Illicit Drug Overdose
Overall, illegal drug overdoses cause most overdose deaths. Given the opioid epidemic, it is not surprising that heroin and other illicit opioids are responsible for most of these deaths. In fact, when added together, heroin and illegal opioids caused almost 63% of the deaths in young people who died from an overdose in 2017. Although all opioids can cause overdose and death, heroin is the most dangerous of all. Studies show that out of all teen deaths from opioid overdose in 2015, heroin caused the highest rate of fatal overdose.
Heroin and opioids are not the only cause of overdose deaths, however. Other illegal drugs also cause many overdose deaths. For example, cocaine use caused death in nearly 17% of the 2017 drug overdoses among young people. In addition, there are reports of 2017 deaths from other illicit agents like K2 and spice. However, there are no national numbers on how many deaths these other drugs caused.
Even if an overdose does not lead to death, it can still cause health risks. For example, although marijuana overdose did not cause any deaths in young people in 2017, side effects from cannabis use led to emergency room visits in many cases.
Signs of Overdose
Signs of overdose can vary widely depending on the substance. If more than one substance has been used, overdose symptoms may be impacted as well. Overdose symptoms can also vary in severity. Some overdoses may be mild, while others can be life-threatening. Overdose symptoms for some commonly abused substances include:
- Alcohol: overdose from alcohol is also called alcohol poisoning. Symptoms include common signs of being drunk like slurred speech and trouble walking. However, alcohol poisoning may also lead to internal bleeding, so signs may include bloody vomit or dark, tarry stools. Passing out and being unable to be roused are also signs of alcohol overdose.
- Opioids and heroin: signs of a heroin overdose and opioid overdose include slowed breathing, difficulty being roused and a blue tinge to the skin from low oxygen.
- Benzodiazepines: symptoms of overdose from benzodiazepines are often very similar to those of opioid overdose. These symptoms include slow breathing, being hard to awaken, and having a blue look to the skin due to low oxygen levels.
- Stimulants: cocaine and methamphetamine, or meth, are examples of stimulants that can lead to overdose. Signs of cocaine overdose and meth overdose include symptoms like fast breathing, fast heart rate and seizures.
Effects of Drug Overdose
Although overdose deaths are the most severe consequence of overdose, they are not the only health effect. Even when drug overdose is not fatal, it can cause serious medical problems. In particular, overdose can lead to long-term effects, especially on the brain.
During a drug overdose, the brain may not receive enough oxygen or any oxygen at all. This is an especially high risk of both benzodiazepines and opioids, both of which slow breathing. However, the brain can also be starved of oxygen due to the use of other drugs like stimulants, which may cause heart problems that interrupt blood flow. Most long-term brain and cognitive problems that result from overdose are due to:
- Brain tissue being starved of needed nutrients
- Direct damage by the drug
- Injury or death of brain cells
- Abnormal brain chemical levels
- Lack of oxygen
The severity of the symptoms depends on how long the brain was without oxygen. Unfortunately, overdose brain damage is often permanent. Side effects of overdose include long-term problems with:
- Movement, coordination and balance
- Hearing and vision
- Memory and concentration
What to Do If You Suspect An Overdose
It can be hard to remember what to do if someone overdoses. The most important thing to remember is to seek emergency help. An overdose should not be treated at home. It can be very difficult to know if an overdose is going to be mild or life-threatening. This is especially true if more than one substance has been used. Therefore, you should always seek emergency medical attention for overdose if the overdose victim:
- Has a hard time breathing
- Has a seizure
- Passes out and will not wake up
If opioid use is a possible cause of the overdose, you should administer naloxone, also known as Narcan, just to be safe. Most naloxone comes in the form of an intranasal spray. If an opioid is causing the overdose, Narcan works as an antidote. However, because Narcan wears off after around 90 minutes, you should always seek emergency medical attention even if the Narcan seems to be helping.
If you have questions about a possible overdose, you can also call the National Poison hotline at 1-800-222-1222, or go to their interactive triage website for help.
Does Your Child Need Addiction Treatment?
Teen addiction can be a scary and dangerous problem. If your teen has a substance abuse problem, your doctor may recommend teen drug rehab. As a parent, you play an important role in your child’s recovery from substance abuse. Your child will rely on you for many things as they overcome their addiction, including:
- Emotional support
- Scheduling appointments
- Giving them structure and supervision
- Monitoring them through their recovery
- Possibly attending therapy sessions with them
If your child is struggling with substance use, our team at The Recovery Village is here to be a resource for you. We can help your child and family through the addiction and help your child towards a bright new future without drugs. Contact us today to learn more.
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