Doctors are warning about an uptick in the number of teens diagnosed with opioid addiction, and they fear recent data only scratch the surface of the crisis.
Researchers will unveil a new study Monday at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2017 National Conference and Exhibition in Chicago showing teens tested positive for opioid dependence at a rate of roughly 135 each day between 2008 and 2013. The tests identified the use of both prescription painkillers and heroin, which together affected roughly 49,626 teens in 2013, up from 32,235 in 2008, according to Healthline.
The study involved only teens who were diagnosed with opioid addiction or dependence during an emergency room visit. The researchers raised concerns that the number of teens suffering from opioid addiction is actually much higher, because many might be diagnosed by their primary care doctor or at an urgent care facility.
“How big is the problem? That we don’t know,” Dr. Veerajalandhar Allareddy, author of the study and medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, told Healthline. “My suspicion is that we are just skimming the top. Once we start screening kids in the other service lines, the number of children who are dependent on opioids probably is very high.”
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 paints a grim outlook for the current opioid crisis ravaging American communities. The number of active heroin users in the U.S. more than doubled between 2002 and 2016 from 404,000 to 948,000, according to the data.
The study predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans overdosing that year. Opioid deaths rose from 33,000 in 2015 to nearly 50,000 in 2016, driven primarily by fentanyl use.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
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