Fentanyl Deaths On The Rise Among Teens In 2022

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022

Overdose deaths involving fentanyl are on the rise among American teens. According to experts, contributors to this increase include mental health effects of COVID-19 and the proliferation of fentanyl in the U.S. street drug supply.

Teen Fentanyl Overdose On The Rise

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl overdose deaths have tripled among teens over the last two years.

Fentanyl is increasingly being found not only in drugs sold as opioids, but also in marijuana and psychostimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine (meth).

Black teenagers, in particular, have seen a five-fold increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in recent years—demonstrating a notable shift in racial demographic trends.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s about 50 times more potent than heroin.

Fentanyl is also chemically similar to:

  • morphine
  • methadone
  • oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)

For years, fentanyl has been a driving force of the U.S. opioid epidemic and overdose crisis, killing thousands of American adults and teens each year.

What Is Causing A Rise In Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Among Teens?

Experts have pointed to a number of factors to explain the rise in fentanyl overdose deaths among teens in recent years.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Drug overdose deaths during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic skyrocketed, with fentanyl as a leading driver among U.S. residents.

During the pandemic, many U.S. teens experienced a disruption in access to their usual supports, including friends, addiction treatment professionals, and family.

Other factors believed to affect overdose risk include:

  • loneliness
  • social isolation
  • problems at home
  • social inequality

Learn how COVID-19 has affected addiction rates.

Stress And Mental Health

Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General warned of a national youth mental health crisis, driven largely by effects of the pandemic on the mental health of teens.

Stress, and mental health disorders such as depression, are a known risk factor for substance abuse—and can be a risk factor for fatal overdose.

Access To Addiction Treatment

Disparities in access to addiction treatment services can affect the likelihood of a teen seeking help for a drug problem, and their risk for fatal drug overdose.

Adolescents from underserved communities, including poor communities and communities of color, are less likely to have access to substance use disorder treatment.

Learn about resources for teen substance abuse treatment.

Contaminated Drug Supply

Healthcare providers and harm reduction advocates nationwide are warning that fentanyl is now being found in a wide range of illegal drugs.

Teens who are buying street drugs—including heroin, marijuana, pressed pills, cocaine, or meth—are therefore now at higher risk for accidental overdose.

What Are The Risk Factors For Fatal Overdose?

Data shows that certain factors can predict a higher risk of fentanyl overdose.

Risk factors for fentanyl overdose death include:

  • illicit drug use
  • mixing drugs
  • taking high doses of drugs
  • injecting drugs
  • having a mental health disorder
  • using opioids after a period of abstinence

Fentanyl Overdose Prevention For Teens

The only surefire ways to prevent a fentanyl overdose are to:

  • Avoid use of prescription fentanyl
  • Avoid using drugs bought through the black market

Moreover, there are other tips for preventing overdose commonly recommended by harm reduction advocates and addiction experts.

Tips for opioid overdose death prevention include:

  • Don’t use drugs alone.
  • Don’t use drugs from an unfamiliar source.
  • Keep naloxone (Narcan) on-hand if you use illicit drugs.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of opioid overdose.
  • Do not mix drugs (e.g. opioids with benzos, alcohol, or stimulants).
  • Use fentanyl test strips to test illicit drugs for the presence of fentanyl.
  • Seek help for drug abuse/drug addiction.

The New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports also recommends that people who use, or who are addicted to illicit drugs, create a safety plan.

If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 for emergency medical attention right away.

Find Help For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

If you or a teen in your life are struggling with drug abuse, we may be able to help.

By calling our helpline, we can connect you with treatment resources and give you an overview of the best addiction treatment options for teens near you.

Don’t wait. Call us today to find help for teen drug abuse.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 2, 2022

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