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Why are Overdose Deaths Among Millennials on the Rise?

Between 2007 and 2017, drug-related overdose deaths among millennials (people aged 18 to 34) increased by 108%.  Opioid overdose death rates among millennials increased by more than 500% between 1999 and 2017.  Alcohol-related deaths among this age group were up 69% while suicides were up 35%. This information is provided by the non-profit Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and their affiliate, Well Being Trust.  Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that these “deaths of despair” were higher for millennials than for Baby-Boomers and senior citizens. 

Who are Millennials and Why are They Overdosing?

Millennials are individuals who were born between 1977 and 2000, and they make up about 25% of the U.S. population.  According to Well Being Trust, these young adults have risk factors that make them more vulnerable to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. 

  • At this age, the frontal lobes of the brain are not fully developed, which makes them more likely to engage in impulsive behavior.
  • People in this age group take more risks in sexual behaviors and drug-use than older adults. 
  • Unusually high numbers of millennials live in high-stress environments.  For instance, 42% of the federal and state prison populations are between ages 20 and 34.
  • Millennials make up 80% of U.S. enlisted military personnel, which is another high-stress environment.
  • These young adults are often facing large amounts of college debt. As many as 40% of millennials have outstanding student loans, with as much as half of their income going to make the payments.
  • Another source of stress for millennials is the rising cost of raising children.  According to the DEA, raising a child to age 17 can cost about $240,000.
  • Healthcare costs are an additional stress factor.  Research shows that one in four millennials avoided medical care due to the costs.
  • People in this age group have a high proportion of substance abuse, yet only 7.2% get the professional help they need.
  • People between the ages of 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 are more likely to be uninsured.
  • This age group grew up during a succession of traumatic events such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Great Recession, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Many of these young people also struggle with family dysfunction, history of substance abuse, poverty, and mental health issues. 

What Can be Done to Address the Rising Overdose Deaths Among Millennials?

The rising overdose deaths among millennials will decrease with policies and programs that are specifically targeted to this age group. These policies should focus on screening, treatment, and prevention resources. For example:

  • Behavioral healthcare and screenings should be a routine part of healthcare in a non-judgemental manner.
  • Screening and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders should be part of routine healthcare. 
  • Expand education programs among the healthcare system and treatment providers to improve suicide prevention.
  • Routinely utilize screening tools for substance use disorders and mental health issues.
  • Invest in and expand Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and drug disposal programs.
  • Continue following the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines.
  • Insurance companies should continue coverage for young people on parents policies until age 26, as mandated by the ACA. 
  • Strengthen the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to ensure that all calls are answered promptly, and expand to include text and app-based services.

Of course, the above examples are only a few suggestions of ways to help reduce the overdose deaths among millennials.  It’s important to remember that substance abuse and overdose deaths have an adverse impact on society. On our quest to prevent the spread of substance abuse, we take one step closer to protecting our future as a nation. 

Resources:

cdc.gov – Opioid Overdose: Understanding the Epidemic

wellbeingtrust.org – Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Suicide and the Millenial Generation: A Devastating Impact

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