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Drug overdoses among teens has risen sharply since 2019. Local schools raise awareness

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
Erica Robinson, an outreach coordinator at Helio Health, shows a group of parents and teachers how to reverse an overdose with naloxone.

In a large auditorium at Maine-Endwell Middle School, Erica Robinson shows a group of parents and teachers how to use naloxone to reverse an overdose. Robinson is an outreach coordinator at Helio Health.

Robinson is at the school as part of a panel put together by the school district and Broome County, to raise awareness about the risk of fentanyl in the drug supply.

Marcy Bear teaches at the middle school. She stuck around for the Narcan training, in part because she’s also got a son in the eighth grade.

“Especially having a teenager and working in a middle school, you see it,” Bear said. “Not necessarily right in front of you, but you can see things happening, and you want to be prepared.”

There aren’t many up-to-date numbers showing how many young people in the Southern Tier have experienced an overdose.

But a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the number of teenagers and adolescents across the country who died from drug overdoses has risen sharply since 2019. Most of those deaths are from opioids; more specifically, fentanyl.

The report found overdose deaths among teens 14-18 years old increased by 94% between 2019 and 2020, and an additional 20% from 2020 to 2021. Nearly 2,000 overdose deaths of 10-to 19-year-olds were reported between 2019 and 2021.

Sylvia Martins, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, said it is especially hard to prevent overdoses among teens because they often hide any drug use from their parents.

“Most of these overdose deaths were preventable,” Martins said. “Two-thirds of them, there was somebody close by. But the person close by either wasn't aware of the issue, was in a different room, [or] didn't have Naloxone.”

Martins also pointed out that 41% of the young people who died from an overdose did have a history of mental health issues, according to the report. She said it’s important to increase access to mental health care.

“Other underlying conditions might lead somebody to try to experiment,” Martins said. "So, let's say if an adolescent is depressed or anxious, making sure they have access to treatment and resources."

The CDC report did find that while overdose deaths were up, overall drug use among teens hasn’t increased, and in some cases has actually decreased.

But 90% of the overdose deaths involved opioids, and 84% involved “illicitly manufactured fentanyls”. Researchers say that could mean the rise in deaths has more to do with the spread of fentanyl than with higher rates of addiction.