Nonfatal drug overdoses among teens under age 15 have increased by about 2% between 2016 and 2019, a current study in Pediatrics finds. While younger teens are overdosing more often on a variety of drugs, stimulant overdose is increasing among all age groups age 24 and under according to an analysis of emergency department data.

Previous studies have looked at opioid use among these age groups, however, information is lacking on heroin and stimulant overdose rates. The researchers therefore investigated trends in suspected nonfatal drug overdoses (all drugs, opioids, heroin, and stimulants) reported to emergency departments between 2016 and 2019.

Researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) BioSense Platform. Age groups included 0 to 10, 11 to 14, and 15 to 24.

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Average quality percent change for drug overdose increased across all groups for suspected stimulant overdoses, with a 3.3 increase among 0- to 10-year-olds (SE = 0.01; P = .005), 4.0 increase among 11- to 14-year-olds (SE = 0.01; P = .001), and 2.3 increase among 15- to 24-year-olds (SE = 0.004; P = .001).

There was an average of a 2.0 increase (SE = 0.01, P = .03) among the 0 to 10 cohort and an average of a 2.3 increase (SE = 0.01, P= .001) for the 11 to 14 cohort among suspected all-drug overdoses. For the 15 to 24 cohort, suspected heroin overdoses decreased across the study window by 3.3 on average per quarter (SE = 0.004; P = .001)

Stimulant overdose increased by the highest amount (4% average) among youth age 11 to 14 years, followed by youth under age 10 (3.3%).

Despite low numbers of suspected overdoses across the youngest two age groups, “given the age of these patients and the likely unintentional nature in many of these cases, efforts to halt these increasing trends are important,” the researchers said.

Limitations include the fact that overdose cases that presented to urgent care or emergency departments that do not report to NSSP were not included. Also, classification into all-drug, heroin, or stimulant is not entirely accurate.

“Although further research is needed to both indicate if these patterns are continuing and to identify the specific drugs driving the increases, our results suggest that targeted interventions, even with young children, such as multifaceted approaches including school, family, and medical providers, may be warranted to prevent overdoses requiring medical treatment,” the researchers concluded.


Roehler DR, Olsen EO, Mustaquim D, Vivolo-Kantor AM. Suspected nonfatal drug-related overdoses among youth in the US: 2016-2019. Pediatrics. 2021 Jan;147(1):e2020003491. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-003491