Younger Generations More Prone to Dying from Drug Overdoses

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Up until now, research into the ages of those who die from drug overdoses has been exclusively directed at determining which age-range people were most at-risk for drug-related death. The effort was to discover a human being’s most “risky” life stage when it came to drugs. The goal from such research has thus far been to create policy and prevention plans to protect folks who were in that age bracket.

But now there is new data which shows how the generation one is born into can have a powerful effect on an individual’s likelihood of dying from a drug overdose.

Overdose Probability Based on When One Was Born

The phenomenon of one’s generation affecting their life choices and potential causes of death is called “Sociological imprinting.” In a study from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health, study author Donald Burke, the Chair of Population Health and Dean Emeritus of Pitt Public Health described sociological imprinting as reflecting attitudes encountered during adolescence. These attitudes towards drug use seem to be a predictor of later overdose.

The researchers in that study made an alarming and concerning discovery on this subject:

The age of fatal drug overdose risk drops younger and younger with each successive birth year.

That means each generation is dying from drug overdoses at a younger and younger age than the last, from Silent Generation to Baby Boomers, Generation X to Millennials.

Until now, it was thought that one’s midlife was the most at-risk period for a drug overdose. But the research indicates that the more recent the generation one was born into, the more likely they will be to die at a young age (if they were experimenting with drugs, of course).

The researchers examined 661,565 drug overdose deaths that occurred from 1979 to 2017. For the study, analysts plotted the death rate as both a function of age and birth year.

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The results were precise. The more recent in time an individual was born (particularly for people born in the 1980s and 1990s), the more likely they were to experience a fatal overdose at a younger age. The overdose epidemic had emerged among the Baby Boomers, but most Boomers who did die from drug overdoses died in their 50s and 60s. Those from Generation X who used drugs were most likely to die in their 40s. Millennials were most likely to die from drug overdoses in their 20s or early 30s. So the individuals born in the 1990s were the ones who died the youngest.

Lead study author Hawre Jalal, assistant professor of health policy and management at Pitt Public Health, commented on the findings, pointing out the concern in the discovery. “There’s no reason why the lines should be fanning like this (referring to the fanning death curve for younger and younger generations. If you look at breast cancer, for example, or any other mortality curves, they don’t look like that.”

Dr. Burke also commented on the study’s results, comparing rising fatal drug overdoses to infectious diseases. “There is an epidemic going on. And just like an infectious disease, there is a transmission. In this case, it propagates from older to younger age groups.”

What Can We Learn from This?

The conclusion is abundantly clear and extremely concerning. With each successive generation, people are dying from drug overdoses at younger and younger ages. And at the same time, the overdose numbers have continued to climb since 1999. More people are dying from drug overdoses, and they’re dying young.

The key lesson here is one of urgency. Something must be done about the rampant spread of drug addiction across America. The problem is worsening, with more people addicted each year. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least 19.7 million Americans, or about 6 percent of the entire population, is addicted to drugs and alcohol.

More than 750,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. Just in 2018 alone, 67,367 people died from drug overdoses. This problem truly is an epidemic, just as Dr. Burke put it. If the issue is not addressed with the tenacity and dedication that a crisis of this magnitude deserves, the epidemic will continue to spread. More young people will die from overdoses.

Addiction Treatment—The Only Way to Completely Eliminate Drug Overdose Risk

Opioids have been the most common killer among drugs, with some estimates indicating that as many as 70% of all drug overdose deaths can be traced back to opiates. Just one type of drug accounts for a considerable percentage of the death toll, and sadly young people are the demographic most harmed by opioids, mainly prescription opioids.

Part of the reason why young people are dying at increasing rates from opiate painkillers is that these drugs are readily available, they are legal, and they are more or less accepted in society.

While the medical sector must reduce the amount of painkillers prescribed each year, the only way to guarantee an addicted loved one does not die from an opiate overdose is to help them into a drug and alcohol treatment center. Drug rehabs can assist people in coming down off of opiates and further assist them in garnering tools and life skills to help them tackle life without turning to drugs.

If you know someone who is addicted to drugs, please be sure that they get help. Addiction is a highly dangerous, potentially lethal crisis that does not go away on its own. Contact Narconon and get your loved one help today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.