Drug overdose deaths among America’s teens have skyrocketed during the pandemic, and not because drug use is more common, researchers report.
In 2020, overdose deaths among adolescents nearly doubled, compared with 10 years before the pandemic. They rose another 20% in the first six months of 2021, a new study finds.
“Teen drug use rates are at historic lows, so this is really because drug use is becoming more dangerous,” said lead researcher Joseph Friedman, an addiction researcher at University of California, Los Angeles.
“There’s really been a spread of counterfeit pills that look like prescription pills, but, in fact, they’re made in underground labs and sold on the illicit market, and they contain illicit fentanyl,” he said.
The majority of drug deaths were caused by fake versions of prescription drugs such as Xanax, an anxiety drug, and narcotic painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin that were laced with fentanyl, Friedman said.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.