The rate of overdose deaths among U.S. teenagers nearly doubled in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and rose another 20% in the first half of 2021 compared with the 10 years before the pandemic, according to new UCLA research.
The trend occurred even as overall drug use remained generally stable.
It was the greatest increase in the drug death rate among teens in recorded history, said lead author Joseph Friedman, an addiction researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Friedman, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, said the increase is due to drugs becoming more dangerous, rather than to drug use becoming more common.
“The increases are almost entirely due to illicit fentanyls, which are increasingly found in counterfeit pills,” he said. “These counterfeit pills are spreading across the nation, and teens may not realize they are dangerous.”
For the study, which is published in JAMA, researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database to calculate the number of drug overdose deaths per 100,000 adolescents ages 14 to 18 from January 2010 to June 2021.