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Teen overdose rates doubled in two years due to fentanyl

 These pills were made to look like Oxycodone, but they're actually an illicit form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.
Drug Enforcement Administration
These pills were made to look like Oxycodone, but they're actually an illicit form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that teens aren't using more illegal drugs – but they are dying from drug overdoses at twice the rate due to fentanyl.

The study, published this week, found that drug use in 14- to 18-year-olds remained stable over the last decade. However, the number (and rate) of overdose deaths more than doubled between 2019 and 2021, reaching 1,146. Nearly 80% of those deaths involved fentanyl.

American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents suffered the highest rates, followed by Hispanic teens.

In Colorado, a concerned House committee voted this week to lower the amount of fentanyl that would trigger a felony charge.

"Double the population of our youth are dying of fentanyl," said state Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, referring to the new JAMA study. "We have to do something, and that is why I’m so supportive of this bill today because I believe that it is saving lives."

The vote wasn't unanimous, though, and debate in Colorado over how to address the crisis promises to rage on.

Rep. Jennifer Bacon said at the committee hearing, "We did hear from some parents who said, 'Any amount should be a felony.' But we also heard from parents who said the opposite. In fact, the first panel of parents said, 'We should not incarcerate these kids. We should get them some help.'"

Colorado is one of several states analyzing further steps to stem the tide of fentanyl coming in from Mexico, criminalize selling or possessing fentanyl, and treat those with substance use disorders who are at highest risk for drug overdoses.

A recent federally-funded RAND Corporation study found that efforts to stop fentanyl distribution, alone, won’t solve the problem. It suggested that the U.S. also needs to find more solutions to help those with substance use disorders who are at an elevated risk of overdosing.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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