Over 1 million years of life lost to fatal overdoses in adolescents

Young people in the United States lost more than 1 million cumulative life years due to accidental overdoses of drugs from 2015 to 2019, according to a new analysis.

During this 5-year period, nearly 22,000 people aged 10 to 24 died from accidental drug overdoses, reported O. Trent Hall, DO, of Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and colleagues.

It correlated to a total of 1.23 million years of lost life (YLL) for young people, with annual YLL ranging from 212,000 to 274,000, they stated in a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Accidental overdose has become a serious and persistent burden on public health in the United States,” the researchers wrote. Total accidental overdose deaths exceeded 100,000 from April 2020 to April 2021, an increase of 28% from the previous 12-month period, according to the CDC.

“Adult deaths have been the focus of most reports of overdose mortality, despite the fact that teens and adolescents are increasingly dying from accidental drug overdoses,” Hall’s group added, citing a study showing that deaths from accidental deaths drug overdose increased in human age. 15 years and older.

” Accidental overdose of drugs represents an unacceptable death toll for this vulnerable population, all of which could have been prevented MedPage today.

The retrospective cross-sectional study analyzed data from the CDC Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (CDC WONDER) mortality file. Race and ethnicity data were not collected “to protect the privacy of the individuals in the database,” according to Hall’s group. YLL was calculated from the life expectancy of men and women.

“The death of a young person is not a single event. It is a tragedy that unfolds over a lifetime,” Hall said. “Counting lost life years tells a more complete story of what it means to lose so many young lives.”

Hall and colleagues found 21,689 deaths due to accidental overdose of drugs among those aged 10 to 24 years, and these deaths were more common in men compared to women (71.9% versus 28.1%). The mean age at death was 17.6 for the whole group and 15.1 for adolescents (10-19 years) specifically.

Looking at adolescents alone, a total of 3,296 deaths were recorded as a result of accidental overdose of drugs from 2015 to 2019. The annual average YLL was 39,714, bringing the total to 187,077 YLL for adolescents over the 5-year period. Again, the number of men’s deaths was more than women’s deaths (68.8% versus 31.2%).

The researchers pointed out that a systematic review from 2019 “identified polysubstance use, psychiatric comorbidity and unstable housing as relevant risk factors for accidental drug overdose in this age cohort. Our results suggest that additional resources are needed to mitigate these factors.”

Limitations of the current study included the potential underdog of overdoses in death records, they noted.

“We hope our report will raise awareness of the increasingly serious consequences of the unintended overdose of drugs among this vulnerable population,” co-author Julie Teater, MD, also from OSU, said in a press release. “Our study provides an important context for the overdose crisis by better representing what it means to society when we lose teens and adolescents to accidental overdose.”

To prevent accidental overdoses, parents and teachers should talk about drug use with young people, said Hall, who suggested that naloxone (Narcan) should be available in schools and recreational areas.

In late 2021, New York City opened the first safe injection site in the United States, reportedly averting 59 overdoses during the first 3 weeks.

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    Lei Lei Wu is an employee writer for Medpage Today. She is based in New Jersey. Follow


Hall and co-authors revealed no relations with the industry.

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