Opioids To Blame For 1 in 5 Young Adult Deaths

By Kelly Burch 06/06/18

Opioid-related deaths were responsible for 1.7 million lost years of life in 2016, according to a new study.

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In 2016, opioids were involved in 20% of deaths of young Americans ages 24 to 35, according to a new study. 

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WONDER Multiple Cause of Death Online Database, which shows the cause of death, age and sex of people who pass away. Researchers looked at the years between 2001 and 2016. 

During that time period, deaths that were attributable to opioids increased 292%. In 2016, opioid-related deaths were responsible for 1.7 million lost years of life, according to analysis by the researchers. 

Despite the fact that there has been a lot of attention given to the effects of opioids on middle-aged Americans, the impact was most profound for younger people. In addition to the high death rates for people in their 20s and 30s, opioids caused 12.4% of deaths of youth aged 15 to 24. 

“Premature death from opioid-related causes imposes an enormous public health burden across the United States,” researchers wrote. “The recent increase in deaths attributable to opioids among those aged 15 to 34 years highlights a need for targeted programs and policies that focus on improved addiction care and harm reduction measures in this high-risk population.”

The opioid-related death rate for people aged 25-34 nearly quadrupled between 2001 and 2016. 

“I think that the fact that one out of every five deaths among young adults is from an opioid, if not shocking, should at least create pause for people to realize how huge of an impact this early loss of life is having,” Tara Gomes, an epidemiologist and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, who led the study, told Tonic

Overall, researchers found that opioids were responsible for 1.5% of all deaths in the United States, or about 1 in 65. That means that opioids resulted in more lost years of life in 2016 than high blood pressure, HIV/AIDs and pneumonia. In 2001, just 1 in 255 deaths were attributable to opioids. 

Men were more likely than woman to die from an opioid overdose, researchers found. In fact, men made up 67.5% of all opioid-related deaths in 2016. 

While young people had the highest percentage of opioid-related deaths, the sharpest percentage increase was among older Americans. People over 55 made up 18.4% of opioid deaths in 2016. Between 2001 and 2016 the opioid-related death rate for people age 55 to 64 increased 754%; for people age 65 and older it increased 635%. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.