What at first appears paradoxical—that illicit drug use among U.S. adolescents was relatively stable between January 2010 and June 2021 while overdose deaths increased—has a perfectly rational, if disturbing, explanation according to a new research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association: It’s the substances themselves that make the difference. In 2010 30.2% of 10th graders admitted to using illicit drugs; by 2020 the figure was 30.4%, though by June 2021 only 18.7% of 10th graders said they had used in the past 12 months. At the same time, overdose deaths jumped from 518 in 2010 to 954 in 2020 and 1,146 in 2021. The problem, beyond the fact that so many youths continue to abuse drugs to begin with, is that the “illicit drug supply has increasingly become contaminated with illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioid and benzodiazepine analogues,” according to the JAMA piece. Overdose deaths increased steadily in the overall U.S. population, as well, over that same period (38,329 deaths in 2010 compared with 101,954 in 2021). If you have the opportunity to discuss drug usage with adolescents or adults, probe for what substances they’re partial to and share these sobering data. JUCM has covered this topic in the past. For more insights, read The Potential Role of Urgent Care in Addressing the Opiate Epidemic in our archive.

Adolescent Overdose Deaths Are Up—but Usage Is Not. If You Don’t Know Why, How Can You Help?
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