More young people are dying of opioids than ever, according to a new study. For every five deaths in 2016, one was the result of an opioid overdose, highlighting just how devastating the opioid crisis has been to this demographic.
The number is five times higher than the rate 15 years ago, the study says. Using mortality data stored in the WONDER database of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the scientists analyzed all opioid-related deaths from 2001 to 2016. Over that time period, deaths by opioid overdose increased 296 percent overall, with 335,123 recorded deaths in total. By 2016, one in every 65 deaths was linked to opioid overdoses.
The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.
More Young People Die Of Opioid Overdoses
Over two-thirds of all the deaths were among males, the study found. The largest increase in mortality rate was among the ages of 25 to 34 — in 2001, only 4 percent of opioid-related deaths occurred in this age group; by 2016, it increased to a whopping 20 percent.
"Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States," according to Tara Gomes, scientist and lead author of the study. She says the crisis is bound to impact upcoming generations because the country lacks a multi-faceted approach — which combines access to treatment, harm reduction, and education — in treating opioid addiction.
Seeing a huge uptick in opioid deaths among young people is particularly troubling. It's the age group "where we really see this huge contribution of opioid overdoses," Gomes said.
"I think that the fact that one out of every five deaths among young adults is from an opioid, if not shocking, should at least create pause for people to realize how huge of an impact this early loss of life is having," Gomes said.
How To Stop The Opioid Crisis
Boston Medical Center's Jeffrey Samet, an addiction expert, along with colleague Stefan Kertesz, have a few ideas on how healthcare practitioners can help stop the plight of America's worsening opioid crisis.
"One seductive target for action is restraint of opioid prescriptions: their dose, duration, and formulation. A case can be made that risk will be attenuated by attacking all 3 aspects of prescribing, and policymakers and regulators have taken up this solution with enthusiasm."
Ultimately, Samet suggests that addiction treatment should be put into the mainstream — or better to say, make it a tenet of healthcare policy.
"The time has come to treat substance use problems as mainstream medical issues."
Gomes hopes the numbers impact people and educate them on how opioid misuse affects society as a whole. She hopes they realize that "we really do need to invest in a lot of different approaches to try and turn the tide of death that we're seeing."