Unintentional overdoses: understanding the fentanyl landscape and reducing harm

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2023 Mar 28. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0000000000001249. Online ahead of print.


Purpose of review: Adolescent and young adult overdoses and overdose fatalities continue to increase despite reductions in self-reported substance use. This review aims to explore factors contributing to this overdose epidemic, highlight signs of overdose and the role of the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and provide recommendations for practice change to support patients and decrease their risk of unintentional overdose.

Recent findings: The potent opioid fentanyl is a common contaminant in nonopioid substances, as well as in heroin and counterfeit pills, heightening risk of fatal overdose. Adolescents and young adults who die of overdose are rarely engaged in substance use disorder treatment. Medications for opioid use disorder are effective at reducing risk of fatal overdose but are underutilized, as is the opioid reversal medication naloxone.

Summary: Pediatric clinician engagement in harm reduction with adolescents and young adults, starting with screening through a confidential interview, may enhance pathways to care and reduce the risk of overdose.