Unintentional Drug Overdoses Has Become A Serious Problem


Unintentional drug overdoses led to 200,000 years of lost life for US preteens and teens who died between 2015 and 2019, study shows

Over the span of five years, teens and preteens in the US may have lost about 200,000 years of life to unintentional drug overdoses.

Researchers looked at overdose data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2015 and 2019 to calculate the total number of years of life lost for 10- to 24-year-olds who died during that time frame. The number of young people dying from an unintentional overdose has steadily increased in recent years, as it has for the general population. Earlier studies have shown that mental health issues, unstable housing and other factors may be to blame for many of these unintentional drug overdoses.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended universal screening for substance use with adolescent patients. If the adolescent has a positive screen for drugs, the association encourages pediatricians to find out whether substance use is interfering with the teen's daily activities or putting their safety at risk. Doctors are urged to talk to the teen about the dangers of drugs and the effects on the brain.

Often, though, that's where the system falls short. Less than 10% of kids go to treatment with the standard screening, brief intervention, or referral to treatment model that we're using. They do a good job screening, but the referral to treatment part is not working.

There are some effective evidence-based treatments for adolescents. A type of therapy called motivational enhancement can work. It helps people strengthen their motivation to quit using, build a plan for change and develop coping strategies for high-risk situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be helpful.

Something as simple as a warmer handoff between the doctor and a treatment program works. Instead of handing a teen a list of numbers to call, the doctor will ask if they can share the teen's information with her, and will reach out to the adolescent to have a brief confidential consultation.

More doctors also need to be trained to work with patients with substance use problems, Riggs said. Studies show that even brief training sessions can boost a pediatrician's ability to help young patients.

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