The number of U.S. teens to die of a drug overdose leapt by almost a fifth in 2015 after seven years of decline, the National Center for Health Statistics has found. The jump in fatalities was driven by heroin and synthetic opioid use and by an increasing number of deaths among teenage girls, The Guardian reports. Deaths among teenagers represent a tiny portion of drug overdose deaths nationally, under two percent. The report comes just as the Trump administration struggles to craft a plan to fight an opioid epidemic that claimed more than 52,000 lives in 2015. “We wanted to document that in this age group there had been a decline [in deaths],” said Sally Curtin, lead author of the study. “The trends were unique for this age group. But, once again, it did increase again between 2014 and 2015.”
The report looked at the rate of overdose deaths for teens aged 15-19 between 1999 and 2015. Researchers found the rate of teens who died from a drug overdose dropped 26 percent between 2007 and 2014. Among boys, the death rate fell even more – by one-third. Yet in 2015, the rate of overdoses among teens increased by almost one-fifth. That year, 772 teens died of drug overdoses. For the better part of a decade, even as drug overdose rates nationally have soared, a declining number of teens have died of drug overdoses. Indeed, fewer teens reported even trying drugs. A 40-year-running, nationally representative survey called Monitoring the Future recently recorded the lowest rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use among middle and high school students since the 1990s. Curtin cautioned that it was too early to sound alarms about a potential trend of teen deaths with just one year of data. The larger trends are ominous. Researchers found that the rate of overdose from synthetic opioids has increased sixfold since 2002, while heroin death rates have tripled.