Teen drug overdose is devastating to a teenager’s family and community. Understanding the facts about teen drug overdose and knowing the top drugs teens overdose on can be helpful in recognizing teen substance abuse.

Teen drug overdose is a serious concern because young adults have been identified as the biggest abusers of prescription pain relievers, stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs. Teen overdose is especially concerning because research shows that seven out of ten teens who abuse prescription opioid drugs mix the drugs with other substances of abuse.

Mixed drug overdoses are very dangerous and can significantly increase the chance for a deadly overdose. Understanding the facts about teen drug overdose and knowing the top drugs teens overdose on can be helpful in recognizing teen substance abuse.

Teenage Overdose Statistics

The 2018 Monitoring the Future Study conducted by the National Institute of Health showed that the misuse of prescription and illicit drugs by teenagers is trending lower than previous years; however teenage drug overdose statistics have skyrocketed in the past couple of years.

  • In 2015, emergency department visits for drug-related poisonings and overdoses were highest among persons aged 15-24 compared to other age groups with nearly 128,000 visits for this age group
  • In 2014, 6% of 12 to 17 year-olds and 12% of 18 to 25 year-olds reported non-medical use of prescription drugs

With the national opioid crisis and an alarming increase in overdose deaths in recent years, it is clear that teenage drug use is of great concern because the drugs of choice are more dangerous and are causing more overdose deaths.

Teen Drug Deaths

Teenage drug overdose deaths are devastating to the teenager’s family and community alike. In 2017, there were 5,455 reported drug overdose deaths involving people aged 15 to 24. Male overdose deaths accounted for nearly 70% of reported drug overdose deaths in this age group.

Teen drug deaths are most commonly due to accidental overdose rather than being purposely self-inflicted. The best method to prevent further tragedy is to provide information and education geared toward teaching young adults that drug abuse is dangerous and deadly.

Top Drugs Teens Overdose On

Teen drug use is driven by a range of many motivations and reasons for use. When surveyed, most young adults have said they used prescription drugs to get high, concentrate, relax, have a good time with friends, relieve pain, deal with problems and experiment. With young adult and teen drug overdose causing nearly 15 deaths everyday, it is important to know and recognize the most popular drugs among youth. If you are taking or have any of the common drugs among youth available in your home due to prescription use, you should ensure that your medications are stored in a safe and secure place.

Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are most commonly prescribed as pain relievers and include medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, tramadol, codeine and hydromorphone. Prescription opioids are similar to the illegal drug heroin and they are misused for their euphoric sensation, also known as a high. Some common nicknames of prescription opioids include Happy Pills, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, Oxy, Percs and Vikes.

Prescription opioids are highly addictive and can even cause death from overdose. In 2017, nearly 20% of reported drug overdose deaths in people aged 15-24 years-old involved prescription opioids. The risk of overdose and death from teen prescription drug abuse increases if opioids are combined with alcohol or benzodiazepines due to the deadly additive effect of decreased breathing rate.

Misuse of prescription opioids has affected every group regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or income level; however, studies how shown that prescription drug abuse among rural teens is more prevalent when compared to teenagers from urban areas. It is important for parents to remain vigilant and aware of drug abuse trends in their area.


Heroin is classified as an opioid and it is an illegal drug. Some common nicknames of heroin include Black tar, Brown sugar, China white, H, Horse, Junk, Ska, Skunk, Smack and White Horse. Heroin use and overdose deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade with the increase of prescription opioid abuse. Teen heroin use is very dangerous because many times heroin is laced with or adulterated with other drugs, such as fentanyl, which can cause deadly overdoses at small doses.

Teenage heroin overdose statistics show that over 60% of reported drug overdose deaths in 2017 in people aged 15-24 years-old involved heroin. Heroin is highly addictive and its misuse has a high risk for deadly overdose. The use of heroin by kids can be devastating and teenagers need to be aware of the dangers and risks, including death, that are possible with heroin use.


Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications that are used in the management of anxiety, panic attacks, seizure disorders and sleep disorders. They cause a slowing down of normal activity in the brain and they are commonly abused for their euphoric “high” sensation. Examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam).

In 2017, nearly 20% of reported drug overdose deaths in people aged 15-24 years-old involved benzodiazepines or other sedatives. Benzodiazepines overdose is very dangerous when these drugs have been mixed with alcohol or opioids. When benzodiazepines are mixed with other substances that also cause a slowing a brain functioning, the risk for deadly overdose increases tremendously. Teen Xanax abuse and teen benzodiazepine abuse is the most common prescription drug abuse among 12th graders. In 2018, five percent of 12th graders reported misuse of benzodiazepines and other sedatives within the past year. It is important to ensure that any prescriptions for benzodiazepines are stored in a safe and secure location.


Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that is available as a powder form or as crack cocaine. Some common nicknames of cocaine include Blow, Bump, C, Candy, Charlie, Coke, Crack, Flake, Rock, Snow and Toot. Cocaine overdose deaths doubled between 2015 and 2017. Many of the overdose deaths were due to cocaine being combined with other substances such as alcohol or opioids. People sometimes think of only adults as misusing cocaine; however teenage cocaine overdose statistics show that the relationship between teens and cocaine is alarmingly high. In 2017, nearly 17 % of reported drug overdose deaths in people aged 15-24 years-old involved cocaine.

Cocaine is a dangerous substance and teenagers need to be informed about the dangers of the use of cocaine, including heart attack and death.


Psychostimulants are substances that are used to increase alertness, attention and energy. Prescription stimulant medications, which include Adderall and Ritalin, are commonly prescribed to help manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, illegal substance that is also classified as a psychostimulant. Some popular slang terms for psychostimulants include Speed, Crystal, Uppers and Vitamin R. The long-term effects of the misuse of psychostimulant can be damaging and it is possible to overdose on these substances. Overdoses on psychostimulants can lead to strokes, heart attacks and death.

Prescription stimulants are commonly prescribed to children and teenagers making them easily accessible as substances of abuse. In 2018, more than five percent of 12th graders reported misuse of Adderall and Ritalin within the past year. Because Ritalin and Adderall are readily accessible and many teenagers are knowledgeable about the typical Ritalin or Adderall dosage for teenagers, it is becoming more and more common to see these drugs passed around at parties for abuse.

The misuse of illegal methamphetamine among teenagers has significantly dropped since 2002; however, the CDC reported that in 2015 there were nearly 4,500 reported emergency room visits for methamphetamine poisoning. While teenage meth addiction stories and the number of kids doing meth seem to be decreasing; the highly addictive nature of methamphetamine makes it a very dangerous substance that parents must be aware of.

With the wealth of information and products that are available to teenagers through the internet, it is more important than ever for parents to be vigilant and knowledgeable and to maintain an open dialogue with their teenagers. It is important for parents to keep current with teen drug abuse trends.

If you suspect your child is abusing drugs, it is important to trust your instincts, closely monitor your teenager’s activities and understand that privacy does not become the priority over ensuring your child’s safety. It can be helpful to talk to your teen’s pediatrician or reach out to a trained professional when determining how to move forward in addressing drug abuse with your teenager.

Help is always available and if you think your child needs help, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan that best meets the needs of your child.

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By – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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By – Kathleen Oroho Linskey, PharmD
Kathleen is a licensed pharmacist in New Jersey. She earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy from Rutgers University. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “2018 Annual Surveillance Reports of Drug[…]d Risks and Outcomes.” August 31, 2018. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most.” February 2016. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future 2018 Survey Results.” December 2018. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances.” April 2013. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Cocaine.” Updated February 2019. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Drug Overdoses in Youth.” Updated February 2019. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Heroin.” Updated March 2019. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Prescription Pain Medications (Opioids).” Updated May 2019. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. “Rural Teens More Likely to Abuse Prescription Drugs.” November 16, 2010. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.