Study Finds Stimulants Are Increasingly Involved In Overdoses Of Young People

A new study finds drug overdose deaths among young people increasingly involve more than just one drug, and usually a combination of opioids and stimulants.

The study, led by researchers at Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction, analyzed Centers for Disease Control data on overdose deaths of 13- to 25-year-olds and found that stimulants were also present in most of the deaths. From 2010 to 2018, the study shows, youth opioid overdose deaths involving stimulants increased by 351%. The year 2018 marked the first time that polysubstance overdose deaths became more prevalent than those deaths involving only opioids.

"I think many people would be surprised to know that teenagers and young adults are overdosing on not just opioids, but other substances like cocaine and methamphetamine," said Dr. Scott Hadland, the study's senior author and a Boston Medical Center pediatrician and addiction specialist. "We need to not focus soley on opioids — we really need to be aware that more often than not, overdose deaths are involving other substances, not just opioids."

This analysis is the first to focus on youth overdose deaths and is consistent with research showing an increasing number of stimulant-related overdose deaths among adults. The study also found that of the polysubstance-involved deaths, one in four occurred among people of color.

Hadland says while there are few options to treat stimulant addiction, efforts to deal with the opioid epidemic should make special consideration of young people and other drugs.

"Efforts can be improved by broadening the scope of treatment — which is often focused on opioids and medications to treat them, and to ensure that clinicians are also helping youth set goals around reducing their stimulant use," according to Hadland. "In some cases, youth use stimulants because they have ADHD or other mental health problems, and addressing these underlying problems will help youth reduce or eliminate their stimulant use."

The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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