Youth Drug Overdose Deaths Quadruple in Kansas in Past Decade

By Carpenter, Tim | The Topeka Capital-Journal, November 20, 2015 | Go to article overview

Youth Drug Overdose Deaths Quadruple in Kansas in Past Decade


Carpenter, Tim, The Topeka Capital-Journal


Incidence of drug overdose deaths among youths in Kansas quadrupled during the past decade amid growing misuse of prescription drugs and addiction to heroin, a national research report said Thursday.

An analysis by the Trust for America's Health indicated Kansas ranked 14th lowest in the number of overdose deaths by medication and illegal drugs with a rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 people aged 12 to 25. The national rate stood at 7.3. The highest was West Virginia at 12.6, while the lowest was 2.2 in North Dakota.

From 1999 to 2001, no state had a youth drug overdose death rate above 6.1. In the period of 2011 to 2013, 33 states had moved above that threshold.

Researchers said the shift was largely tied to increases in prescription drug misuse and the doubling in heroin use among 18- to 25-year-olds in the past 10 years.

"More than 90 percent of adults who develop a substance use disorder began using before they were 18," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "Achieving any major reduction in substance misuse will require a reboot in our approach."

He said states and communities must place greater emphasis on preventing use before it starts, intervening with support systems earlier and viewing treatment as a long-term commitment.

Preventive education and addiction treatment program managers at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said research-based, community-focused tactics were being emphasized to combat the state's addiction challenges. Urging youth to "just say no" wouldn't be sufficient against the complex problem.

"We are very much aware there's an issue with prescription drug abuse," said Stacy Chamberlain, who directs the state agency's substance abuse initiatives. "We have a younger population we're serving."

In an interview, she said some youth were obtaining powerful pharmaceutical drugs from family or friends, combining the haul in bowls at parties and then each grabbing a handful -- perhaps a deadly cocktail. The addiction landscape also features expansion in Kansas methadone clinics for addicts, an increase from four to nine in the past decade or so.

Sarah Fischer, the agency's prevention program director, said the state's prevention structure was recently redesigned to shift more money to community action. Needs of cities and counties differ, she said, but improving understanding of the danger of misusing prescription drugs is a statewide goal.

"There is a lot of momentum around prevention," she said. …

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