Fentanyl & Death in Our Youth

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Drug use is increasing in adolescents and young adults [1]. There are a variety of drugs that are growing in popularity. One of them is fentanyl. Fentanyl is an opioid that is 50x more powerful than heroin [2].

Fentanyl and Opioid Addiction

Opioids are highly addictive drugs that can have devastating emotional and physical health consequences. Unfortunately, opioid overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in the United States [1].

Research shows that about 66% of adults with opioid addiction first started using before they were 25 [3]. This statistic, combined with the fact that drug use is increasing in adolescents and young adults, points to the need for change [1].

Despite the numbers showing that opioid use in this population is increasing drastically, this group is often left out of discussions about policy and treatment approaches [1]. If researchers and healthcare professionals better understand the needs of this population, then the amount of youth dying from fentanyl overdose can decrease [1].

Adolescents and adults under age 25 are still going through important developmental changes [1]. There is so much brain development in addition to important physical, social, and emotional changes [1].

One of the things that makes this population unique is that the part of the brain that’s responsible for controlling impulses and logical thinking is not fully developed until about age 25 [1]. This means this population is more likely to make impulsive decisions. This places them at a higher risk of becoming addicted to a substance that is already highly addictive [1].

Prevention and Treatment

Young Couple Hugging and fighting fentanyl abuseFortunately, research shows there are effective prevention and treatment programs that can help youth who are struggling with opioid abuse and addiction [2]. One way to prevent opioid addiction and overdose is to implement screening tools. Screening can help identify which people are struggling before the addiction becomes severe or someone overdoses [1].

It can also be helpful to screen for risk factors. Known risk factors for opioid abuse include mental health issues, housing insecurities, not going to school, or having friends who use opioids [1]. Being aware of the risk factors can support healthcare professionals in identifying who may be at higher risk. Referring people who are at higher risk to support services, like therapy, can help protect this population from developing a substance use issue.

Another way to prevent opioid-related deaths is to provide education about opioids and addiction. This can help prevent stigma and can make it easier for people to reach out for treatment [1].

Making sure that professionals are trained correctly to treat fentanyl abuse and addiction is crucial. Research shows that behavioral therapy, family therapy, and medication interventions are effective rehabilitation methods.


[1] Uchitel, J., Hadland, S.E., Raman, S.R., McClellan, M.B., Wong, C.A. (2019, November 21). The opioid epidemic: A needed focus on adolescents and young adults. Health Affairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20191115.977344/full/

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 16). Fentanyl. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 12, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 12, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.