Opioid overdose experiences in a sample of US adolescents and young adults: a thematic analysis

Laura B. Monico, Ariel Ludwig, Elizabeth Lertch, Ross Dionne, Marc Fishman, Robert P. Schwartz, Shannon Gwin Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background and Aims: Opioid overdose deaths among adolescents and young adults have risen sharply in the United States over recent decades. This study aimed to explore the nature of adolescent and young adult perspectives on overdose experiences. Design: This study involved thematic analysis of interviews undertaken as part of a mixed-methods, randomized trial of extended release naltrexone (XR-NTX) versus treatment-as-usual (TAU) for adolescents and young adults (aged 15–21 years) with opioid use disorder (OUD). Setting: Participants were recruited during a residential treatment episode at Mountain Manor Treatment Center, in Baltimore, MD, USA. Participants/cases: As part of the qualitative component of this study, 35 adolescents/young adults completed up to three interviews: at baseline, 3 and 6 months after release from residential opioid use disorder treatment. Measurements: Semi-structured interviews solicited participant experiences with opioid use disorder treatment; their satisfaction with the medications used to treat opioid use disorder; counseling received; current substance use; issues related to treatment retention; their treatment goals; and their future outlook. Findings: Four broad themes emerged: (1) adolescents/young adults had difficulty identifying overdoses due to interpreting subjective symptoms and a lack of memory of the event, (2) this sample had difficulty perceiving risk that is misaligned with traditional understandings of overdose intentionality, (3) adolescents/young adults did not interpret personal overdose events as a catalyst for behavior change and (4) this sample experienced a greater impact to behavior change through witnessing an overdose of someone in their social network. Conclusions: The sample of US adolescents and young adults in treatment for opioid use disorder expressed difficulty identifying whether or not they had experienced an overdose, expressed fluctuating intentionality for those events and did not have clear intentions to change their behavior. Witnessing an overdose appeared to be as salient an experience as going through an overdose oneself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-873
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Adolescents
  • drug overdose
  • opioid use disorder
  • opioids
  • qualitative
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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