A new Ontario, Canada-based report finds that powerful opioids — including painkillers like OxyContin and codeine — represent a leading cause of death among young adults. In fact, the report found that about one in eight deaths affecting people in this age group could be connected to abusing opioids.
The report, which was penned by a team of Toronto researchers and published in the journal Addiction, examined adults in the 25-34 age range. The team examined just under 6,000 opioid-related deaths in Ontario over a 19-year period (1991-2010).
The researchers found that the rate of opioid-related deaths skyrocketed over that time, from 12.2 deaths per million to 41.6 deaths per million. That’s an increase of 242 per cent and means that roughly 1 in every 170 deaths in Ontario can be tied to opioid use.
Because the 25-34 age group was most affected by opioid use, the researchers estimate that 20,000 years of potential life was lost during the 1991-2010 period. That exceeds the total associated with alcohol abuse, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and the flu.
Tara Gomes, a scientist at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and an author of the report, admits that her team “hadn’t quite anticipated that there would be such a large prevalence of opioid-related deaths in these younger populations and that it would be really one of the leading causes of death in these younger adults.”
The researchers’ conclusion, based on their findings: it’s time for health professionals to change how people think about powerful opioids. In other words, more needs to be done to show young adults the incredible danger posed by these drugs.
“These are risky medications,” Gomes said. “They can be effective but you need to use them appropriately. You should not be sharing them with friends and you should be protecting them in your household to make sure that they’re not falling into the hands of youth or other individuals who might inadvertently end up overdosing.”