Science and Tech


Teen opioid overdoses surge but access to addiction treatment limited

A study found there is limited access to residential addiction treatment centers for those who are under the age of 18.
Generic image of  OxyContin pills.
Posted at 6:04 PM, Feb 12, 2024

The number of opioid overdoses among teenagers is on the rise, yet access to addiction treatment remains limited and out of reach for many.

According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, there is limited access to residential addiction treatment centers for those who are under the age of 18, and the treatment itself is very expensive.

Researchers found 160 centers that treated teens under 18 across the U.S., and after contacting them, they found that just 54% of the facilities had an available bed, with an average wait time of 28 days for those on the waitlist. Additionally, they learned that treatment on average cost $878 per day, with 48% of facilities requiring upfront payment. A month's stay costs over $26,000 on average.

“The ability to access timely, evidence-based treatment for addiction can be a matter of life or death, and the current system too often fails young people,” said Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in a press release. “We need to make access to timely, affordable, and evidence-based care the norm across treatment settings.”

The study notes that out of the 160 facilities studied, 66 were for-profit and 94 were nonprofit. While the for-profit centers had more availability (77% vs. 39% for nonprofits),  they cost about three times more ($1,211 per day compared to $395). On average, for-profits had a 19-day wait for a bed, while nonprofits averaged 31 days.

Furthermore, researchers found that only 57% of these facilities accepted Medicaid, and only seven states had facilities that did.

According to the NIH, around 2.2 million people aged 12 to 17 had a substance use disorder in 2022.

Teen drug overdose deaths have more than doubled since COVID-19, largely due to fentanyl use. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that overdose deaths rose from 253 in 2018 to 723 in 2022. Over this time, the portion of these deaths linked to opioids surged from 57% to 78%.