Data behind OASAS commercial highlights new dangers for adolescents and drugs

Deadly overdoses among teens is up despite drug use being down

Data show more teens than ever are dying from overdoses.

By now, many people have seen the commercial airing across New York state, where the Gibbons family of Pittsford shared the story of their daughter Paige’s deadly overdose from just one pill.

The commercial from the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) first aired during the Super Bowl.

13Investigates dug into the data behind why the state is warning teens about taking just one pill.

Data show more teens than ever were dying from overdoses in recent years. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that more powerful drugs, rather than increased drug use, was killing more adolescents than ever.

Data showed fewer middle and high school students than ever are using illegal drugs, but that adolescents’ risk of dying from an overdose was up because fentanyl is tainting the drug supply and counterfeit pills are more available than ever.

The study looked at data from the CDC on overdose deaths of people ages 10 to 19 from 2019 to 2021 in the United States.

Among the deaths studied, 83% involved what’s called illicitly manufactured fentanyl or IMFs.

“The drug supply is more deadly than ever, so the risks are higher,” said OASAS Commissioner Dr. Chinazo Cunningham.

OASAS is focused on education on the dangers of experimentation with drugs.  

“There are real possibilities of overdosing and dying from one pill and somebody who does not have a problem with substances,” Cunningham said.

Just 35% of the young people studied who died had a known history of using opioids. In addition, 60% of the overdose deaths happened at the young person’s home. Those data points suggested people around the young person may have had no knowledge they were using, the person said.

“We certainly hear this of, ‘It’s not that kind of kid, it’s not that kind of family,’ But, first, I would say, addiction can happen within any family. But it’s not just addiction. It’s experimentation without addiction,” Cunningham said.

Students could get pills from a friend of a friend, or without knowing the source, and that drugs could be used with good intentions, say, to stay awake and study, Cunningham said.

However, counterfeit pills available through social media combined with the prevalence of fentanyl can make for a deadly cocktail, she said.

“Now we have the internet where kids can do things that their parents may not be aware of, and kids can access things that they didn’t ordinarily have the ability to access in the past, so it’s a new world,” she said. “What we have to tell [parents] is unless they got a pill from a pharmacy, they don’t know what’s in it. We do have tools to check to see if fentanyl is present and then always to have naloxone at home so that if someone overdoses they don’t die from it.”

Fentanyl test strips and xylazine test strips are available, along with naloxone.

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