Teen drug overdose rates have doubled in recent years, fueled by the opioid epidemic. Here's what parents should know about this issue.

opioid epidemic
Credit: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock

New findings from the CDC indicate something terrifying: Teen drug overdose rates reportedly doubled between 1999 and 2015. In fact, the U.S. saw a drug-related death rate of 1.9 percent among teens aged 15 to 19 in 1999—and that rate rose to 3.7 percent in 2015. The CDC released these results after studying mortality and population data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Rates went up among both male and female teens—but during the latter part of the research timeframe, from 2007-2014, the rate of deaths among teen boys actually declined. The research also indicates that in 2015, most drug-related deaths among teens were unintentional.

Opioids—specifically heroin—were more commonly involved than any other class of drugs. In fact, the rate of heroin-related deaths was three times higher in 2015 than in 1999.

The death rates didn't increase steadily through the years, though. Rates actually declined by 26 percent between 2007 and 2014, only to increase by 15 percent in 2015.

We spoke to an expert to learn more about this scary trend—and not surprisingly, we learned that prevention aimed at teens may be the key to combating the opioid epidemic.

"One of the trends that I've been observing over the course of the past decade is that the focus, unfortunately, has been shifted away from adolescent treatment—and not just adolescent treatment, but adolescent prevention efforts," Paul Lavella, director of alumni services at Summit Behavioral Health told Parents. "Unfortunately, a lot of it comes from fiscal restrictions. The other thing that we're observing simultaneously is that the cultural conversation surrounding prevention is changing. As we're seeing a trend leaning away from prevention as well as addiction treatment providers, I've seen multiple adolescent programs close—they're shifting away from adolescent care and putting more attention into young adult care—that 18 to 26-year-old demographic. We're seeing a lot more attention being placed on intervention when a person's been identified as having a problem, which is normally coming out in their young adulthood."

The CDC has dubbed teen drug overdose a "major health challenge," and for good reason. It's incredibly alarming to see that rates are up so significantly after years of decline. It may not be all bad news, though—the CDC believes rates may appear to have increased thanks to improved reporting and data collection. Still, according to these findings, there were 772 drug-related teen deaths in 2015. As far as we're concerned, that's 772 too many.