Over the course of the region’s — and nation’s — opioid crisis, one thing that’s been clear is that the epidemic reaches into all walks of life, across a broad swath of class, race, religion and age. Baby boomers are no more immune to its effects than teenagers.
That’s not to say, however, that all ages are affected equally. Far more young adults have fallen victim to opioids than any other group, and the road through addiction is especially hard for youths.
In the past five years, close to 45 percent of overdose deaths in New Hampshire have been people under age 35, according to numbers tracked by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse finds: “Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers.”
And a Yale study published in December found nearly 9,000 children and teens have died of opioid overdoses in the past 20 years, and that the rates are going up. Part of the issue is that not enough is done to keep opioids away from kids, the study found. Childproof packaging for prescription opioids used for addiction treatment would be a big plus, for example.
But another problem may be the lack of access to treatment. A recent Washington Post report noted: “Only a small percentage of youth who report pain reliever (including opioid) abuse or dependence receive addiction treatment.” The numbers were even worse for minority children.
The Post report cites an analysis by Child Trends, a research organization that focuses on youths. Child Trends found fewer than one-third of substance-abuse treatment facilities offer programming for youths. Clearly more is needed.
Even as the crisis grows — while opioid overdose deaths in New Hampshire may have peaked in 2017, nationally, they continue to rise — the issue remains relatively under the radar on the national conversation, pushed aside by the fighting over the president’s latest tweet or what celebrities are up to.
Locally, the Keene Family YMCA has taken up the call to respond to the opioid crisis with its Community Coalition on Youth Substance Misuse, promoting conversation and seeking answers. That effort came in response to the overdose death of a 16-year-old Keene High School student from Winchester last year.
The Y recently hosted a showing by the nonprofit Angels of Addiction, which features watercolor portraits of those lost to opioid overdoses. The subjects of those portraits are submitted by their family and friends. At the viewing in Keene, almost every portrait was of a teenager or young adult.
Perhaps that’s because parents who’ve lost a child are more likely to seek such a remembrance. Or, maybe it’s reflective of who is hit hardest by the crisis.
Again, this is an epidemic that reaches across all ages. But it’s particularly painful when it interrupts, or snuffs out, the promise of a young life.