Unintentional Drug Overdose Mortality in Youth


A new study shines light on the issues of drug use and abuse in youth.

teen overdose


In a first of its kind study, investigators looked at years of life lost (YLL) as a result of unintentional drug overdose in youth and found more than 1.25 million YLL.1

O. Trent Hall, DO, and colleagues leveraged summary-level death records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research file for January 2015 to December 2019 to complete a cross-sectional retrospective study. The life expectancy for each age was found through the 2017 Social Security Administration Period Life Table. No information on race and ethnicity was used in an effort to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Hall et al found a total of 3296 youth aged 10 to 19 years died of an unintentional drug overdose in the United Stated between 2015 and 2019, with a mean of 15.1 years. Male teenagers outnumbered their female counterparts in both incident deaths (2267 [68.8%] vs 1029 [31.2%]) and years of life lost (133,023.64 vs 65,548.28). The annual total years of life lost as a result of unintentional overdose was found to be stably heightened with a mean of 39,714.38 (2689.63) annual years of life lost. During the study period, there was a total of 187,077.92 years of life lost for adolescents. When including young adults, 20 to 24 years, there were 21,689 deaths from unintentional drug overdose, with a mean age of 17.6 years. During the 5-year study period, adolescents and teenagers had a total of 1,227,223.58 years of life lost.

“Our findings represent an unacceptable preventable mortality burden for adolescents and young people in the US,” Hall and colleagues reported. “Prior research has identified polysubstance use, psychiatric comorbidity, and unstable housing as relevant risk factors for unintentional drug overdose in this age cohort. Our findings suggest that further resources are needed to mitigate these factors.”


Hall OT, Trimble C, Garcia S, et al. Unintentional Drug overdose mortality in years of life lost among adolescents and young people in the US from 2015 to 2019. JAMA Pediatr. January 31, 2022. Epub ahead of print.

A version of this story appears with our sister publication Contemporary Pediatrics.

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