Blame opioids for a fifth of young adult deaths in the United States

The drugs were behind just 4 percent of deaths in 2001 for this age group

woman visiting grave

IN MEMORIUM  A woman visits the grave of her fiancé, who died of an opioid overdose in 2014 at the age of 28.

Jim Cole/AP Photo

Opioids have quickly become a major cause of death among young Americans aged 25 to 34, with one in five deaths in 2016 tied to the drugs, researchers report online June 1 in JAMA Open Network.

That’s a steep rise from 2001, when opioids accounted for 4 percent of all deaths in that age group. The second-most affected age group was 15-24, for whom 12 percent of all deaths in 2016 were attributed to opioid overdoses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s the younger populations “where we really see this huge contribution of opioid overdoses,” says epidemiologist and study coauthor Tara Gomes of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “We’re losing so much potential life.”

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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