A new study has revealed that opioids are involved in one in five deaths among young adults in the US.
About 64,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016, making it the leading cause of death in people under 50.
A new report from St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario found that the proportion of opioid-related deaths increased by nearly 300 per cent between 2001 and 2016.
Its authors warn that their research, which builds on previous analyzes of deaths among young adults in Canada, confirms that opioids are at the heart of a transnational public health problem in North America.
Opioid overdose deaths among young adults rose nearly 300 percent in the U.S. in 2016
Opiate drug abuse and overdoses have reached a crisis point in the US as well as Canada.
These two countries have more overdose deaths than anywhere else in the world, despite being high-income countries with massive public health campaigns against the opioid epidemic.
Tens of thousands of lives lost to overdoses have prompted President Donald Trump to declare a “public health emergency,” but government agencies have struggled to slow the epidemic’s momentum.
“Despite the amount of attention that has been given to this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that premature loss of life due to opioids is having across the United States,” said study co-author Dr. Tara Gomes.
Opioid addiction has hit the youngest population hardest in recent years, killing more people under 50 than heart attacks or car accidents.
For the new St Michael’s study, researchers sifted through and analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on all deaths in the US between 2001 and 2016.
In every age group, the number of opioid-related deaths was alarming, but young adults were overdosing in droves.
In 2016 alone, 11,552 people aged 25 to 34 died in ways that involved opioids, accounting for 13 percent of all deaths in that age group.
This age group accounted for more than a quarter of opioid-related deaths documented in the CDC database.
Deaths involving hard drugs were also involved in 9,747 deaths among people aged 35 to 44, as well as 4,027 deaths of people between 15 and 24.
But that doesn’t mean people stop overdosing in middle age.
Among people aged 45 to 54, seven percent of all deaths in 2016 were still attributed to opioids.
Taken together, the data, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, showed that one in 65 deaths across all age groups was related to opioids.
“Premature death from opioid-related causes represents an enormous public health burden across the United States,” the researchers wrote.
Opioids are involved in a relatively small portion of the U.S. population over 50, but the study authors note that the rate of abuse among this group is expected to double by 2020 compared to 2004.
Men are also disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic, accounting for nearly 70 percent of drug-related deaths in 2016.
Abuse is not isolated to any age group, gender or country, with Canada closely following the US with the second highest number of opioid deaths in the world.
However, the demographics of addiction and overdose in the US are particularly troubling.
“The recent increase in opioid-related deaths among people aged 15 to 34 highlights the need for targeted programs and policies that focus on improving addiction care and harm reduction measures for this high-risk population,” the researchers wrote.