Focus and Focus+ Icon

Interactions between human services programs and the opioid crisis: Adolescents and young adults

School-age children deal with the same issues related to opioid misuse as younger children, including the continuing effects of neonatal abstinence disorder and the effects of opioid use disorder on their parents and other family members. As children mature, their risk for opioid misuse also grows.

Youth—adolescents and young adults—are often left out of the discussion about opioid misuse. While there has been much recent attention on pregnant women, infants, and young children, there has been much less research and policy focus on those between the ages of 12 and 25. While the rate of youth opioid use is relatively low and dropping, the rate of overdose deaths for this population is increasing, as is the proportion of opioid overdose deaths.

This summary includes several examples of promising programs for youth, both to prevent substance misuse and to support those in recovery.


  • The rate of youth opioid use is relatively low and has been decreasing in recent years.
  • The rate of youth opioid-related deaths is increasing, particularly those due to synthetic narcotics like fentanyl.
  • While the need for services targeted to adolescents is rising, the availability of those services is limited.
  • Strategies to address opioid misuse among adolescents and young adults need to include early intervention, treatment of co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression, and support for those in recovery.


Child Development & Well-Being, Children, Health, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, Transition to Adulthood