New research: 22 adolescents died every week from drug overdoses in 2022

The United States is witnessing a sobering statistic: an average of 22 adolescents aged 14 to 18 lost their lives each week in 2022 due to drug overdoses. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that the surge in adolescent overdoses can be attributed to fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills. This alarming trend prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue an alert in 2023 after deaths linked to counterfeit pills doubled.

Angela Kennecke, the founder of Emily’s Hope, has discussed this distressing issue on the Grieving Out Loud podcast. One example is the Norring family’s tragic loss—Devin, their 19-year-old son, unknowingly purchased a lethal dose of fentanyl, thinking it was Percocet, through Snapchat.

“Something that I think is important to bring up is that these drugs are being delivered to your doorstep by kids who might look just like your kid. They might go to school with your kid. Just because your kid is at home doesn’t mean they’re safe,” said Tom. “We thought Devin was at home. He’s safe. What a safer place for him to be on a Friday night. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case because of the way that Snapchat and drug dealers use the platform to bring drugs directly to your home now.”

In order to prevent more deaths, the researchers proposed several recommendations. These include making naloxone available in all schools, encouraging open discussions between educators and parents with adolescents about the dangers of counterfeit pills, and advising physicians to inquire if their adolescent patients or their peers have been approached, either in person or via social media, to buy pills.

“It’s often impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye between a real prescription medication obtained from a doctor and a counterfeit version with a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. It’s urgent that teenagers be given accurate information about the real risks and strategies to keep themselves and their friends safe,” said study co-author Joseph Friedman, a researcher at UCLA.

The research also found that adolescent overdoses were more than double the national average in Arizona, Colorado, and Washington State between 2020 and 2022. Nineteen hotspot counties, with at least 20 overdose deaths and death rates surpassing the national average, were identified. Notably, Maricopa County in Arizona and Los Angeles County had the highest fatal overdoses, with 117 and 111, during this period.