Teen Drug Use Is Down—But Teen Overdoses Are Up

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Purple ribbon for drug overdose awareness on black background


We recently reported that teens’ use of most illegal drugs is at an all-time low. In fact, teens’ use of opioids, tobacco, and alcohol is at the lowest level it’s been since 1975, the year that NIDA started the Monitoring the Future survey. That’s very good news.

But another recent statistic about teens and drugs isn’t good at all: More teens in the United States are overdosing on drugs than ever before—and more of them are dying as a result.

A fatal turn

Beginning in 2015, the number of teen overdose deaths began increasing. After dropping for a few years, it went up to 3.7 deaths for every 100,000 teens. That translates into a total of 772 teen overdose deaths in 2015 (the most recent year for which data are available).

What caused this change? Most teen overdoses in 2015 were related to two drugs: the opioid heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. These are dangerous drugs that slow down a person’s breathing and can make them stop breathing altogether—causing a fatal overdose.

Only a tiny amount of fentanyl is needed to make a person “high,” so a lot of drug dealers are adding it to other drugs. As a result, many teens don’t even know what’s in the drugs they’re taking.

Just one teen overdose is too many. Take good care of your health.

Update: Teen overdose deaths from prescription drug use continued to rise in 2016 (873 deaths) and 2017 (1,050 deaths). This number decreased in 2018, to 790 deaths, but deaths involving synthetic opioids increased (for all ages) by 10 percent in 2018. That increase was probably due to the use (intentional or unintentional) of fentanyl.

Learn about the many ways drug overdoses can happen.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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