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Overdoses Now Leading Cause of Death In U.S. Residents Under 40

A new analysis shows that U.S. residents under 40 were relatively unscathed by COVID-19 in the pandemic but fell victim to another killer: accidental drug overdose deaths. Death rates in the age group were up by nearly a third in 2021 over 2018, and last year were still 21% higher, Stateline reports. COVID-19 was a small part of the increase, causing about 23,000 deaths total between 2018 and 2022 in the age group, which includes the millennial generation (born starting in the early 1980s), Generation Z (born starting in the late ’90s) and children. Vehicle accidents and suicide (about 96,000 each) and gun homicide (about 65,000) all took a cumulative toll from 2018 to 2022, found an analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Overdose deaths, however, took almost 177,000 lives in that time.

Accidental overdose became the No. 1 cause of death in 13 states for people under 40, overtaking suicide in nine states and vehicle accidents in five others; it’s now the top cause in 37 states. The only other change was in Mississippi, where homicide became the main cause of death, overtaking car accidents. In 40 states and the District of Columbia, overdose was the biggest increase in deaths for young people. States are responding to the skyrocketing death rates with “harm reduction” strategies that can include warning of the new danger of recreational drugs laced with deadly fentanyl, training and equipping people to counteract overdoses when they see them, and considering controversial supervised drug use sites to keep addicts safer. A “fourth great wave” of accidental overdose deaths driven by drugs spiked with powerful fentanyl is now washing over young America, said Daliah Heller of Vital Strategies, an international public health advocacy group.


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