How many teenagers are dying of unintentional drug overdoses?


With drug overdoses being a heavy public health burden, a report looks into how this burden affects the pediatric population.

The ongoing opioid crisis has brought a great deal of light on unintentional drug overdose. However, most of that reporting has focused on adults who have died of drug overdoses, even as teenagers and young adults are dying from overdose in increasing numbers. A research letter examines unintentional drug overdose mortality among adolescents and young people in terms of years of life lost.1

The investigators used summary-level death records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research file for January 2015 to December 2019 to complete a cross-sectional retrospective study. The life expectancy for each age was found through the 2017 Social Security Administration Period Life Table. No information on race and ethnicity was used, in an effort to protect the privacy of the affected individuals.

They found that a total of 3296 adolescents, people aged 10 to 19 years, had died of an unintentional drug overdose in the United Stated between 2015 and 2019. The average age of a teenager who died from unintentional overdose was 15.1 years and male teenagers outnumbered their female counterparts in both incident deaths (2267 [68.8%] vs 1029 [31.2%]) and years of life lost (133 023.64 vs 65 548.28). The annual total years of life lost as a result of unintentional overdose was found to be stably heightened with an average of 39,714.38 (2689.63) annual years of life lost. During the study period, there was a total of 187,077.92 years of life lost for adolescents. When including young adults, 20 to 24 years, there were 21,689 deaths from unintentional drug overdose, with an average age of 17.6 years. During the 5-year study period, adolescents and teenagers had a total of 1,227,223.58 years of life lost.

The investigators concluded although they relied on death records and may have undercounted overdoses that their finding shed light on a preventable mortality burden for teenagers and young adults. They believe that additional resources should be deployed to mitigate factors that have previously been shown to increase the risk of overdose, such as polysubstance use and unstable housing.


  1. Hall OT, Trimble C, Garcia S, Entrup P, Deaner M, Teater J. Unintentional Drug overdose mortality in years of life lost among adolescents and young people in the US from 2015 to 2019. JAMA Pediatr. January 31, 2022. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.6032
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