Teen deaths from synthetic opioid fentanyl have TRIPLED since the COVID-19 pandemic began
Teenage deaths from overdosing on fentanyl have tripled over the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a new study finds.
An analysis of official statistics performed by researchers at the Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that deaths from the synthetic opioid surged to 680 in 2020, and 884 in 2021 – up from 253 deaths from the drug in 2019.
That is a more than two-fold rise in only one year, and a rate that more than tripled from 2019 to 2021.
Overall, deaths from overdosing on any drug in the age group doubled from 2019 to the second year of the pandemic.
Fentanyl is at the center of America’s drugs crisis, which experts say is now at an ‘unacceptable’ level and should ‘shock everyone’.
The synthetic opioid is often mixed with other drugs such as heroin, Xanax or cocaine to raise their euphoric effects. It means many people overdose on the drug without realizing they are even using it – often fatally.
Teen deaths from overdosing on fentanyl (grey line) have tripled since the Covid pandemic began (dotted line between 2019 and 2020). Scientists say this may be linked to the synthetic opioid being mixed with other drugs such as cocaine and heroin
Fentanyl is at the center of America’s drug crisis, as it is regularly mixed with other drugs. This means most people overdose on it accidentally without realizing
America’s drug deaths rocketed to a record 100,000 during the first year of the pandemic after lockdowns and social isolation rules were imposed.
Opioids such as fentanyl were behind more than seven in ten of these fatalities. The super-strength drug first shot to notoriety in 2016 after music superstar Prince died of a fentanyl overdose, and has continued to tear through families since.
US drug enforcement agencies warn that taking as little as two milligrams of the drug could result in an overdose. The first symptoms are often clammy skin and stupor.
In some cases this can also lead to respiratory failure, resulting in death.
What is fentanyl? How is it used? How does it kill people?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
It is normally prescribed to cancer patients to help with severe pain, and is administered through patches or as lozenges.
But the drug is also illegally made and sold in the US through the black market.
Dealers often mix it with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine to raise the products euphoric effects.
Many people taking these drugs do not know that fentanyl has been added, or that there is a risk they could overdose on this drug.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration warns as little as 2 milligrams of the drug could be fatal.
When someone overdoses it triggers stupor, cold, clammy and blue skin.
In serious cases it can also trigger respiratory failure leading to death or a coma.
In the study, published Tuesday in JAMA, researchers warn the pandemic was a major factor behind rising fatalities.
Lead author and PhD candidate at UCLA Joseph Friedman along with other researchers wrote: ‘The contribution of factors unique to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as suicidal (thoughts), mental illness, social isolation, and disruptions to illicit drug markets, cannot be discerned.’
Benzodiapezines — drugs primarily used for treating anxiety — were the second-leading cause of death from drug overdoses among the age group last year.
Fatalities from the drug doubled over the two years since the pandemic began from 71 in 2019, to 152 last year.
Methamphetamines — also known as ‘meth’ or ‘crystal’ — were the third leading cause of death from an overdose (112 deaths last year), followed by cocaine (84 deaths) and prescription painkillers (66 deaths).
Overall, the fatality rate from drug overdoses among 14 to 18-year-olds surged two-fold from 2.36 deaths per 100,000 teenagers in 2019 to 5.49 deaths.
Researchers also found that the rate of drug overdose deaths was highest among American Indians or Alaskan natives last year (11.79 per 100,000 members of the population).
They were followed by Latino (6.98), white groups (5.36) and black or African American groups (3.1).
The data was compiled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database which records all US deaths listing drug overdose as the primary cause.
Adolescent deaths from drugs rose during the pandemic despite official surveys suggesting drug use in the age group is falling.
About 4.6 percent of eighth graders said they used an illicit drug in 2021, compared to 7.7 percent the year before.
Among 10th graders 5.1 percent admitted to using one, compared to 8.6 percent previously, and among 12th graders it dropped from 11.4 to 7.2 percent.
National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow said they had ‘never seen’ such dramatic decreases in drug use among the age group.
Last month the CDC’s drugs report revealed US fatalities from overdoses had hit a record high for the fourth year in a row.
There are mounting calls for action to curb the surge in deaths from overdosing on drugs.