The rate of fentanyl-related deaths among U.S. children and teens increased 30-fold between 2013 and 2021, according to a new study.
Researchers evaluated opioid deaths among individuals under age 20 between 1999 and 2021. They found fentanyl was involved in 5,194 of 13,861 (37.5%) fatal pediatric opioid poisonings during this period. Most deaths were among teens ages 15 to 19 (89.6%), while children up to age 4 accounted for 6.6% of fentanyl-involved deaths. For all ages, 43.8% of deaths occurred at home, and 87.5% were unintentional.
Linda Richter, vice president of prevention research and analysis at Partnership to End Addiction, who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay that a multipronged approach is needed to reduce deaths from fentanyl. This includes addressing the contamination of the drug supply; a broad education effort for adults and teens about the proliferation of fentanyl in the drug supply and its lethal potential; education for parents about storing substances out of sight and reach of children and safe disposal; and availability of fentanyl test strips.
Richter also called for a widescale campaign to have naloxone available in homes, schools and public places; ensuring naloxone is free or affordable to anyone who wants it, that the public is trained to use it and that sigma around it is reduced; and better substance use prevention and more accessible treatment.