Opioid overdoses from multiple substances have spiked among young people, study finds

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Researchers say treatments should target overall substance abuse

A new study conducted by researchers from Boston Medical Center found that opioid overdose deaths that involve more than one substance are most common in young people. 

According to the researchers, methamphetamines and cocaine are most commonly used in conjunction with opioids for people between the ages of 13 and 25. To combat this issue, the researchers explained that treatment options should focus on substance abuse as a whole -- not just opioids.

“Our study provides significant insight into what is driving opioid-related overdoses among adolescents and young adults, which can help improve treatment and outcomes in this population,” said researcher Dr. Scott Hadland. 

A broader substance issue

To understand the trends emerging among young people when it comes to opioid overdoses, the researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research. They focused on opioid overdose deaths involving young people between the ages of 13 and 25 that occurred from 1999 through 2018. 

Opioid-related deaths increased by more than 380 percent over the course of the study, and the researchers found that the mortality rate for those who combined opioids with other substances increased even more. More than half of the 4,623 opioid-related deaths in 2018 involved multiple substances. 

The study revealed that stimulants -- like cocaine -- were the most commonly used substances in addition to opioids. In this study, cocaine was responsible for nearly 70 percent of all multiple-substance deaths in 2018. Overall, multiple-substance opioid overdose deaths increased by 760 percent between 1999 and 2018, and by 350 percent between 2010 and 2018. These findings highlight just how dangerous substance abuse has become among young people, particularly when opioids are also involved. 

Moving forward, the researchers’ sole focus is how treatment options can be better tailored to young people’s needs. This study has shown how opioid use is part of a much larger substance abuse problem, and future treatments and preventative measures should be targeted towards those areas. 

“These results emphasize that we need to be focusing on more than just opioids when treating young people with opioid use disorder,” said researcher Dr. Jamie Lim. “As providers, we need to recognize that co-occurring substance use disorders are common, and they must be addressed simultaneously when treating opioid addiction.” 

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