Why are Deaths Among U.S. Kids and Teens on the Rise?

Deaths among kids and teens in the U.S. is on the rise, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 2013 and 2016, deaths among those aged 10-19 rose 12%

Why, at a time of advanced medicine and people generally living longer lives, are the youngest of the population dying at such an increased rate?

According to the CDC, the problem is four-fold: accidental injury, suicide, drug overdoses and homicide. Each of these problems is complex, with no simple solution in sight.

Accidental Injuries

Motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2016, accounting for 7.4 deaths per 100,000 young people in the United States.

Traffic accident fatalities among young people are often caused by:

  • Driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Unbuckled seat belts

Failure to wear seat belts is a major problem. In 43% of fatal accidents involving kids between ages 9 and 13, the children were not buckled up. In 50% of fatal accidents involving teens aged 15-19, the teens were not wearing seat belts.

Unintentional injuries have increased between 2013 and 2016 after falling 49% between 1999 and 2013.

More young people are walking or driving distracted by using a smartphone or other electronic device, which is also contributing to higher rates of traffic deaths.


Suicide rates among young people have skyrocketed 56% between 2007 and 2016. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens and adolescents between ages 10 and 18. Those figures had declined 35% between 2007 and 2014.

In the United States, more young people die of suicide than influenza, birth defects, cancer, stroke, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and AIDS combined.

Studies show that depression, mental illness and substance abuse are often linked to suicide deaths among teens and adolescents. Suffocation, poisoning and firearms were the three leading methods of suicide among youth in 2016.

Gun violence accounted for 43% of all suicides for children aged 10 to 19.

A study of pediatric hospitals released in May 2017 found that admissions for patients aged 5-17 with suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled between 2008 and 2015.

Actual rates of suicide among teens and children may be higher than what the data shows. Suicides are often under-reported, particularly if a drug overdose is involved.

Drug Overdoses

The opioid crisis affects more than just adults in the United States. Young people are getting caught up in the storm. According to the CDC’s report, drug overdoses accounted for 90% of all poisoning deaths among children. Older teens were hit the hardest.

In 2015, there were 772 overdose deaths among young people, accounting for 3.7 deaths per 100,000 in the age group. About 9,000 children and teens died from prescription and illicit opioid poisonings between 1999 and 2016, according to a new study.

To make matters worse, a new study shows that 7 out of 10 teens are combining prescription opioids with other substances, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Tranquilizers
  • Amphetamine

Prescription opioid abuse is a major concern among teens and puts them at a far greater risk of overdosing, especially when combined with other illicit drugs.

Opioids aren’t the only concern. Overdoses from heroin and fentanyl are also on the rise, but in many cases, opioid use fuels the increased heroin use.


Among the 9,000 children and teens who died from opioid poisonings between 1999 and 2016, 2.4% were ruled homicides. In children under the age of 5, nearly one-quarter of those deaths were ruled homicides.

Gun violence also accounted for 87% of all homicides among young people. Between 2014 and 2016, homicides accounted for 7-9 deaths per 100,000 teens.

The number of teens dying from firearms increased 30% between 2013 and 2016, reaching 10-13 per 100,000.

In 2010, more than 4,600 young people were homicide victims, and 612,000 youth were treated in emergency rooms because of physical assault-related injuries in 2011. This equates to 13 young people being murdered every day in the United States, and 1,600 visiting hospitals for non-fatal injuries. There is no simple solution to these issues, which are leading to increased death rates among teens and children. Increased suicide prevention efforts and greater accessibility to addiction treatment are two steps in the right direction. Stressing the importance of driving safely and avoiding cell phone use and drugs/alcohol can also help. Education and awareness can help prevent some of the lives that are taken each year due to accidental injuries, drug overdoses, suicide and homicide.

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