In 35 States, Young People Are Dying From Drug Overdoses at Double the Rate

The rate has increased in every state in the last decade, yet few are doing much to prevent it.
by | November 19, 2015
A mother in Ohio looks at pictures of her daughter, who died of a suspected heroin overdose. (AP/John Minchillo)

In every single state, the rate of young people dying from drug overdoses increased in the past decade, according to a report released Thursday by Trust for America’s Health. In the past 12 years, the overdose rate for people ages 12 to 25 has more than doubled in 35 states and quadrupled in five.

Back in 1999, not one state had a drug overdose rate of more than 6.1 per 100,000 young adults. Fast forward 14 years, and one heroin epidemic later, and 33 states had drug overdose deaths of 6.1 per 100,000 or higher from 2011 to 2013. The national average is now 7.3 per 100,000 youths.

West Virginia, New Mexico and Utah have the highest rates of young adult overdose deaths, with each around 12 deaths per 100,000 youths in 2013. This is more than five times higher than South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska, which had rates around 3 deaths per 100,000 teens and young adults.

Drug Overdose Deaths

The following drug overdose data represent three-year average crude rates for the age 12-25 population:

NOTE: 95% confidence intervals shown in parenthesis

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System

There are some positive developments, however. Smoking tobacco is at an all-time low among young adults (at 9 percent nationally); underage drinking in high school has gone down (from 45 percent to 35 percent); and illicit drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds has decreased 13 percent since 2009.

The rise of heroin and other opiates is one explanation for the decreased use of other substances. Some other illicit drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine, have become less popular, said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.

Drug overdose death rates have increased everywhere since 1999, but the rate has gone down Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi and Tennessee in the past 8 years. But even still, the rate increased in 13 states since 2007 -- and 11 of those states have overdose death rates above 6.1 per 100,000.

The report found a significant jump in overdoses from teen to young adult years. Overdose rates for 19- to 25-year-olds are eight times greater than people 18 and younger.

[click_to_tweet]19-to 25-year-olds are 8 times more likely to die from a drug overdose than teens 18 and younger.[/click_to_tweet]

Prevention efforts are where states seem to be failing, according to Levi. Only Minnesota and New Jersey had a perfect score in evidence-based policies and programs designed to curb preventing and reducing substance abuse.

There isn’t a clear answer for why heroin addiction and overdose deaths have grown so dramatically, although the availability of prescription drugs might have something to do with it.

“A teenager doesn’t have to go out into the community and buy something from a drug dealer; they can just pop a few pills from a family member’s medicine cabinet,” said Brian Bumbarger, founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Penn State University. Someone addicted to opioid painkillers is then 40 times more likely to try heroin, the report finds.

Only one in 10 people who need substance abuse treatment are getting it, Levi said. "And often, the treatment is insufficent and not timely enough."

“If we can effectively educate teenagers while they are in school, we can keep overdoses from taking off in the 19 to 25 age bracket,” Levin claimed. “It’s a tragedy that only a quarter of states have prevention efforts and screening programs in schools.”