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Teenagers are dying from drug overdoses in greater numbers than ever before. From 2019 to 2020, the overdose mortality rate for youth nearly doubled, and it’s up even more in 2021.

However, teen drug use has not risen. So what’s the problem?


What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid as much as 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. It originally was developed to help cancer patients manage pain, applied via a patch placed on the skin.

Read more: Family-based drug interventions can provide needed support, accountability

However, because it is so strong, fentanyl is used often for abuse, typically added to heroin to increase its potency or even disguised as highly potent heroin, according to the DEA. This contributes to overdose deaths, because drug users think they are dealing with standard heroin when what they have is up to 50 times stronger.

Where does fentanyl come from?

Primarily, according to a report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, fentanyl is manufactured in China and shipped to Mexico, where it is then smuggled across the border. Fentanyl also is produced in Mexico by drug cartels and transported north. A general lack of security at the U.S. border with Mexico has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of fentanyl that has made it to the States in recent years.

A white cross is shown in a cemetery at a funeral for a teen who died of a fentanyl overdose.

What is the scope of the problem?

As of Jan. 31, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths involving opioids were up 38.1% over the previous year. Furthermore, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) rose 55.6% “and appear to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths.”

Additionally, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, law enforcement seizures of pills containing illicit fentanyl increased nearly 50-fold from the first quarter of 2018 to the last quarter of 2021. During that time, the report stated, “the proportion of pills to total seizures more than doubled, with pills representing over a quarter of illicit fentanyl seizures by the end of 2021.”

How does fentanyl affect teen overdose rates?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey, drug use was down among youth in 2021, but overdose deaths were up: Even though teen drug use fell to low rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, quotes an article in U.S. News & World Report, “drugs that are more accessible now to teens are much more powerful and dangerous. According to the study, drugs like the highly potent fentanyl accounted for 77% of teen overdose deaths in 2021, and the mortality rate tied to such substances increased by 169% between 2019 and 2020.”

What do I need to do?

Read more: How to help teens beat drug addiction

The problem is clear: Drug use always has been a danger, and today, with drugs more potent than ever, it is all the more dangerous. If a teenager in your family is using drugs (or if you suspect drug abuse), please give Bostec a call. We can test for drug use and help direct you to proper care. We also sell home drug test kits that test for most major drugs.

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