Mental Health Drugs Leading Cause of Teen and Young Adult Overdoses

Mental Health Drugs Leading Cause of Teen and Young Adult Overdoses

According to a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics by researchers from Rutgers University, benzodiazepines (BZD), like Xanax, or psychostimulants, like Adderall, drugs commonly prescribed to treat mental health issues, are increasingly the cause of overdoses among teens and young adults.

How big is the problem?

According to the Centers for Diseases Control, in 2019, 4,777 youth died from a drug overdose in the U.S., 727 on BZDs, and 902 on psychostimulants.

The Rutgers team analyzed an extensive 2016-2018 U.S. administrative claims database looking at privately insured young people for this study.

They then isolated all 15-24-year-olds with a hospital or emergency department visit for an overdose involving either class of drugs. By looking at prescription records, they next identified those that had been prescribed one of these medications before their overdose.

Disturbingly, they discovered 29 percent of those overdosing on BZDs had received a doctor’s prescription in the prior month and 42 percent in the preceding six months.[1] Twenty-five percent of those overdosing on a stimulant had a prescription for that drug given them the month prior and 39 percent six months before the overdose.

According to Greta Bushnell, an assistant professor at Rutgers School for Public Health and a lead author for the study, “these findings highlight the need for physicians to assess youth for self-injury risk who are prescribed BZDs and stimulants, as well as the need for varying efforts to prevent intentional and unintentional overdoses.”[2]
She also believes physicians should talk to their patients about how each prescription drug interacts dangerously with substances like alcohol and illicit drugs.

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