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Drugs & Health Blog

Teen Drug Use Is Down—But Teen Overdoses Are Up

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.


The NIDA Blog Team

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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


My grandson died of an overdose on March 21 2018 I want to get active to prevent other families from going through this grave loss Zachary was 19 years old when he died
My 16 year old nephew died on July 29, 2019 after using drugs.

Monica, we are so sorry to hear about this. We extend our deepest sympathies for your loss. If you feel like you need to talk to someone about this, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. They don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by if you’d like to find help in your area.

Sorry for your loss. My daughter died of a drug overdose in 2016 at 32. I'm with you all the way with your idea. If you want me to help you ,please let me know. [Edited per blog guidelines.]

Maureen, we are so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing a part of your story with us. If you’d like to share your personal insights with NIDA on topics like this, we’d like to hear from you. Our Parent Feedback Team meets online 3-4 times per year to discuss NIDA’s materials and how NIDA can reach more people with our information and resources. If you’re interested in joining this group, please contact us at

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