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Researchers Explore Overdose Risk Factors in Teens, Young Adults
Polysubstance use, psychiatric conditions, witnessing an overdose, and unstable housing stand out as risk factors among people age 30 and under.
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July 3, 2019

CONTEXT   |   Drug overdoses are a leading cause of death among young people. Risk factors for overdose — including opioid use, injection drug use, and a history of mental illness — have been identified for adults, but far less is known about risk factors that may be specific to younger people, who are developmentally and psychologically distinct from older adults.

STUDY OBJECTIVE   |   Conduct a systematic review of the existing literature to summarize what we know so far regarding overdose risk in young people.

THE DETAILS   |   Researchers identified and reviewed 12 relevant studies (from an initial pool of more than 100) that included more than 5,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 30 who had experienced a nonfatal overdose.

FINDINGS   |   Opioid use, benzodiazepine and barbiturate use, and injection drug use were consistently found to be risk factors for overdose in young people, as they are in adults. Polysubstance use, psychiatric conditions, and a lack of stable housing (including recent homelessness) also emerged as "especially noteworthy" risk factors in this age group. Witnessing an overdose was another notable risk factor — one that has not been identified previously in research on adults.

PULL QUOTE   |   "[T]here is a paucity of research on young people specifically. Young people may be uniquely at risk due to differences in brain development, increased prevalence of psychiatric comorbidity, stronger genetic influence for SUD, and limited access to SUD treatment, including medication treatment."

SO WHAT?   |   Though they need to be validated, the trends seen in the studies suggest that some risk factors, such as witnessing an overdose, deserve further exploration and may be specific to young people. Even more important, this review shines a light on just how little we know about overdose risk in younger age groups — an alarming knowledge gap, given the rise in overdose deaths that has occurred during the opioid crisis. Creating targeted interventions for young people will require a better understanding of how overdose risk factors vary by age.


Source. Lyons RM et al. (2019). Risk Factors for Drug Overdose in Young People: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.