Teen deaths from drug overdoses are spiking after years of decline, national data shows, and adding to the concern is how quickly some people are escalating into hard drugs at such a young age.
“We’re seeing new users starting right into these street drugs,” said Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger, noting that kids aren’t following the traditional pattern of moving to street opioids after getting hooked on prescription drugs. “They’re becoming exposed with very little tolerance.”
A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report suggests the opioid crisis is increasingly reaching people at younger ages. After a steady decline from 2007 to 2014, teen drug overdose rates jumped 20 percent in 2015, the report found.
The death rate among 15- to 19-year-olds from heroin overdoses has tripled since 1999 according to the CDC.
More recent data from Montgomery County suggests the trend may be continuing.
In 2016, just one teen died from an accidental drug overdose: 19-year-old Amanda Fernandes, who died June 11, 2016, at her residence in Dayton. Her official cause of death was pneumonia caused by overdose, according to the coroner’s office.
But so far in 2017, five teens have died of overdoses in Montgomery County and four more in surrounding counties, according to Harshbarger.
Their ages ranged from 13 to 19, and all but two of the deaths involved an overdose of fentanyl or one of its analogs, Harshbarger said.
While most teen overdose victims are male, the national data shows, the upward trend has been more severe among females.
Fewer teens say they are using drugs
Some good news comes from the most recent Dayton Area Drug Survey, which shows that use of all types of drugs is down among area high school seniors.
The 2016 survey included 10,786 students from 20 Miami Valley schools interviewed by Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Students saying they had ever used non-prescribed opioids decreased from 12 percent in 2014 to 8 percent in 2016, and the number of high school seniors who reported ever having used heroin dropped from 3.6 percent to 2 percent.
Alcohol and marijuana remained the most widely used drugs at all grade levels surveyed.
Experts say more prevention programs aimed at young people are needed.
Many schools in Montgomery County offer educational drug prevention programs and there are resources available for teens who need addiction treatment. But the county is looking for ways to better intervene with individual teens who are at risk of addiction or are just beginning to use drugs.
“When you’re talking about young people — especially when young people are just starting to experiment — they don’t need treatment,” said Andrea Hoff, director of prevention and early intervention for Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services. What they need is coping and prevention strategies so they discontinue use and don’t become addicted, she said.
“Those services are virtually non-existent as far as a parent or a school being able to refer a young person into that service, but it’s something that we are working on,” Hoff said.
Advocates say it’s crucial for adults to guide teens into services because teens traditionally do not seek out help.
“They think they are invincible,” said Lori Erion, founder and executive director of Families of Addicts. “Teens a lot of the time don’t realize where they are headed.”
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