Shortly after President Trump declared the opioid overdose crisis a national emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 2014 to 2015 the drug overdose rate increased 19 percent for teens — more than doubling the rate since 1999. The most common culprit: heroin.
As pediatricians who treat addiction, we can attest to the toll of this crisis on young people. We recently cared for a 16-year-old boy who sat in our exam room reading a Harry Potter novel — an alarming contrast to his addiction to opioid painkillers first prescribed after appendix surgery. We treated a 17-year-old girl on the inpatient ward for complications from injecting opioids who coped by surrounding her hospital bed with stuffed animals.
Any forward-thinking national overdose strategy needs to invest heavily early in the life course — that is, in children and adolescents. To be successful, the strategy must prevent teens from initiating problematic opioid use in the first place, and expand access to evidence-based treatment for teens. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed in December 2016, appropriates $1 billion to states over two years to address opioid addiction. Most funds, however, will be allocated to treatment services for adults, with very little dedicated to preventive and treatment services for adolescents.