An average of 22 U.S. teens die each week from overdoses, driven largely by fentanyl in counterfeit pills, according to a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The researchers found that teen overdoses occurred at double the national average in Arizona, Colorado and Washington State between 2020 and 2022. They identified 19 hotspot counties – those with at least 20 overdose deaths and death rates higher than the national average. Maricopa County in Arizona and Los Angeles County had the most fatal overdoses.
The increase in overdose deaths in teens is due to fentanyl found in illicit versions of oxycodone, benzodiazepines and other counterfeit prescription pills, HealthDay reports.
“Teenagers are likely to be unaware of just how high-risk experimenting with pills has become, given the recent rise in counterfeit tablets,” study co-author Joseph Friedman of the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a university news release. “It’s often impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye between a real prescription medication obtained from a doctor and a counterfeit version with a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. It’s urgent that teenagers be given accurate information about the real risks, and strategies to keep themselves and their friends safe.”