A study released Thursday by American health authorities alarms that, between 2019 and 2021, drug overdoses among people aged 10 to 18 in the United States more than doubled, warning in particular of the risks of fentanyl-containing counterfeit pills.
The American market has been flooded with this ultra-potent and addictive synthetic opiate over recent years since its production is easy and can be done at a low cost in the laboratory.
As the data from the study show, the most used ‘counterfeit pills of choice’ – which were behind around a quarter of adolescent overdoses – were sold under the guise of painkiller Oxycodone and the anxiety drug Alprazolam, often known by the brand name Xanax.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the average monthly rate of adolescent overdose increased by 109 percent between 2019 and 2021 whereas the number of overdoses involving illegally manufactured fentanyl increased by a whopping 182%.
As pills found at the overdose scenes are not always tested, the percentage is most likely an underestimate.
The study, however, said that the rise in deaths among adolescents was likely caused by more potent drugs rather than more frequent usage since, during the same period, illicit drug use among adolescents was down overall.
According to the CDC report, it is unclear if the adolescents were aware pills were counterfeit or if they intended to take legitimate pharmaceutical medications, noting, however, that the most worrying part is the availability of such pills via social media as well as the marketing aimed toward the adolescent population which makes the proliferation of counterfeit pills particularly concerning.
The report listed a total of 1,808 reported adolescent overdoses in 31 American states and Washington DC between July 2019 and December 2021.
While between July and December 2019 the median rate of deaths per month was 32.5, that percentage skyrocketed to 109 over the same period in 2021, which translated to 68 deaths per month, prompting the CDC to warn about the need for urgent efforts to prevent overdose deaths among adolescents.
Awareness campaigns among adolescents of the existence of tests to detect the presence of fentanyl is listed among the measures that the CDC considers needed along with strengthening of prevention campaigns alerting to the dangers of counterfeit pills and educating young people about naloxone, the antidote which can be administered in the event of an overdose and which blocks the effect of opiates.