Opioid overdose deaths involving more than one substance are more common among American teens and young adults than deaths caused by opioids alone, researchers report.
They also found that stimulants such as cocaine and crystal methamphetamine are the non-opioid substances most commonly involved in opioid overdose deaths in young people. Moreover, opioid overdose deaths involving stimulants increased 351% between 2010 and 2018.
The researchers said their findings show that in order to tackle the national overdose crisis, special attention must be paid to teens and young adults, and cannot focus only on opioids.
"Our study provides significant insight into what is driving opioid-related overdoses among adolescents and young adults, which can help improve treatment and outcomes in this population," study co-author Dr. Scott Hadland said in a Boston Medical Center news release. Hadland is a pediatrician and addiction specialist at the hospital.
The investigators analyzed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on deaths among teens and young adults, ages 13-25, involving opioids such as fentanyl, heroin and prescription pills between 1999 and 2018.
During that time, the rates of overdose deaths involving opioids alone increased by 384% and deaths involving opioids and other substances (polysubstances) increased by 760%.
In 2018, more than 4,600 opioid overdose deaths occurred in this age group, and nearly three-quarters involved synthetic opioids.
Of those deaths, more than half involved multiple substances, meaning that overdose deaths involving more than just opioids were more common than those involving opioids alone.
Stimulants, mainly cocaine, contributed to more than 33% of total overdose deaths and 66% of the polysubstance overdose deaths in 2018, according to the study. The results were published Nov. 23 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
"These results emphasize that we need to be focusing on more than just opioids when treating young people with opioid use disorder," said study co-author Dr. Jamie Lim, a pediatrics resident at Boston Medical Center and Boston Children's Hospital.
"As providers, we need to recognize that co-occurring substance use disorders are common, and they must be addressed simultaneously when treating opioid addiction," he said in the release.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on the national opioid overdose crisis.
SOURCE: Boston Medical Center, news release, Nov. 23, 2020