Adolescent Drug Overdoses Back on the Rise—Addressing a Growing Problem

Teenager in Emergency Room

There’s been a significant climb in drug overdoses amongst people under the age of eighteen. This has cropped up just in the last few years. The new threat arrives on the coattails of previously very low drug use rates amongst young Americans, which makes the problem that much more concerning and worrisome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for people under the age of fifty has been from accidental drug overdoses. To get down to the specifics, the overdose rate amongst adolescents increased by nineteen percent from 2016 to 2017, and it had increased by fifteen percent from 2015 to 2016 before that. That comes out to a thirty-five percent increase in overdose deaths amongst adolescents in just two year’s time. That is something to be very concerned about.

In light of this information, many organizations and groups have come forward to comment on young adult substance abuse. Some have commented on just the young adults, some have commented on the overall problem. In the following paragraphs, we will look at what each individual, group, or organization is saying about these issues.

President Trump, the APHA, the DEA, and White House Offices All Comment on Drug Overdoses

President Trump gave a State of the Union Address specifically on the drug addiction and overdose issue. In his speech, he spoke passionately about the effect that drug addiction was having on the American people, the effect it was having on the younger generations specifically, and where the crisis was likely going if massive action was not taken on a federal level to do something about it. President Trump said that:

“The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs, using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far in the world…”
USA map with RX on top

“The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs, using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far in the world. No part of our society, not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural, has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.”

Trump spoke further about the fact that the United States had been struggling with the opioid problem for almost twenty years, and the effect on families, working-class adults, parents, and young people has been absolutely inexcusable. He said that: “This epidemic is a national health emergency. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.”

But even with a passionate insistence on a federal shift to more attention on addressing opioids, there are those who don’t feel that the Trump Administration is taking enough action to save adolescents and adults alike from the opioid crisis. According to Dr. Georges Benjamin, the Executive Director of the American Public Health Association:

“The administration’s declaration does include directions to increase access to telemedicine, allows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to appoint specialists, allows the U.S. Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants and shifts funding for HIV/AIDS care to substance abuse. However, these changes are not nearly large enough to make a dent in this growing public health disaster.”

Dr. Benjamin went on to say that: “We hope that the administration will implement a more comprehensive plan in the coming weeks and work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to allocate additional funds so that our country can see immediate action to end this epidemic, as promised.”

Other organizations have spoken up on the opioid epidemic and how it has affected young people. They have talked specifically on the risk this epidemic has placed on younger generations, and they have commented on it on a more broad, general scale too. According to the White House Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis:

“Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it. The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled. With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

“Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it. The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled. With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

The Surgeon General also spoke out on this issue, talking about how only one in ten young people who suffer from an addiction actually have access to proper treatment. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also made statements, saying that opioid overdoses have more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration, the law enforcement group responsible for policing and preventing drug crime, spoke out on the issue. The DEA Acting Administrator, Robert W. Patterson, said that: “It has never been a more important time to use all the tools at our disposal to fight this epidemic, and we must remain steadfast in our mission to combat all dangerous drugs of abuse.”

Obviously, all of the above groups are very impassioned and very motivated about doing something about the drug problem and about protecting young adults from expanding addiction threats. However, being impassioned about doing something and actually doing something are two very different things. We need to see actual change, actual efforts, and real work to protect young people from addiction threats.

Steps We Can Take Now to Reduce Adolescent Drug Use

Lector delivering drug education lecture at school

There are strategies that we can employ and take to protect young people from the threats of drug use and alcoholism. Some of these strategies are:

  • Create drug education programs in all schools. Prevention is the best policy when it comes to addressing young adult and adolescent drug use, and prevention through education is the best policy by far. When young people are educated in school about the real risks and dangers attendant with drug abuse, they are much less likely to engage in drug use habits.
  • Get parents to talk about drugs and alcohol with their kids, no matter the age of their kids. Studies from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that kids who receive talks and education from their parents about the risks attendant with drug use are four times less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than kids who do not have these interactions with their parents. Unfortunately, only thirty percent of parents actually have these discussions with their kids. That has to change.
  • Create rehabilitation and treatment opportunities that are tailor-made to help young people. Most drug and alcohol rehab programs are only able to help adults. We need rehab solutions that can help adolescents. Some rehab facilities can help young people and adolescents who suffer from addiction, but they are the minority of rehab centers.
  • Increase law enforcement efforts to crack down on drug dealing and drug trafficking. This would help reduce the supply of drugs in our communities, which would make it more difficult for young people to get ahold of substances in the first place. Law enforcement officers can also work with the community to educate young people on the true risks of drug abuse.

These are just a few of the approaches that we can start taking that would reduce the risk that young people are exposed to frequently when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. We need to take action now to protect young people, lest this problem expand further and become even more dangerous.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.