The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking a disturbing trend in drug overdose deaths. Younger and younger children are dying, and it’s a trend we are seeing in the Chicago area.

In a FOX 32 special report, Elizabeth Matthews takes a look at the numbers.

“What these kids are willing to try, put in their system now with no regard to what can happen is just mind-boggling,” said Mike VanOver, Will County Deputy Chief Coroner.

VanOver has an unfortunate firsthand look at a disturbing trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths among children aged 10 to 19 is rising.

“It hurts. It hurts to hear this. You know when you’ve got, I’ve got 10 grandkids,” VanOver said.

VanOver has both professional and personal experience with overdose deaths. Part of his job is tracking overdose deaths in Will County. A few years ago, he also lost his own daughter to an overdose at the age of 30.

“We had no idea. She lived at our house with the two kids. She wouldn’t answer her door. I kicked the door in and my wife and I found her,” he said.

“She overdosed on fentanyl. She was, [she] got addicted to painkillers from a car accident. And I think it got to the point where she couldn’t get the painkillers anymore,” VanOver said.

“The majority of the ages – we were trending 30s to upper 40s,” said Will County Coroner Laurie Summers.” Where the majority of the cases, that tends to be the case. But we are seeing the age trend down, and so they’re buying these off the street and probably not sure what they’re getting.”

Among teens 14 to 18, the CDC is reporting overdose deaths went up 94% from 2019 to 2020 and another 20% from 2020 to 2021.  

In the Chicago area, a FOX 32 Chicago data analysis found there have been over 140 overdose deaths in the last four years involving teens and pre-teens. And while the majority of those deaths have been older teens, there were at least two cases where a 12-year-old overdosed and died. Both happened in Cook County – one this year and last year.

“And so these deaths among adolescents is really concerning,” said Dr. Maria Rahmandar from Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Sometimes for younger kids, that would be an accidental overdose where they’re getting into something unknowingly. But for a lot of teenagers, young adults, this is youth trying substances, using drugs.”

Rahmandar is the Medical Director of the Substance Abuse and Prevention program at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on adolescent health.

She says the overwhelming presence of fentanyl now is a major factor in the trend.

“Fentanyl is in almost all, any pill powder that’s out there. There’s a good chance it has fentanyl in it these days and a lot of youth in these – you know who have died. There really wasn’t evidence that they ever had used opioids before or had a problem with other substances. So you know once is enough,” Rahmandar said.

Summers says the majority of overdose deaths Will County has seen among teens and pre-teens over the last several years have been due to opioids with some cases connected to kids as young as 15.

“Overdoses are happening because fentanyl is such a powerful drug. It doesn’t take anything. It takes a grain. Just you know the head of a pin-size for someone to die,” Summers said.

Some experts also believe lack of access to mental health resources also plays a role.

“And you know if kids are having anxiety. If it’s not being addressed at home. No matter what their age is.  Well here, take this, this helps they are self-medicating,” Summers said.

“We know that mental health is a big concern these days. And that youth who use substances are more likely to have a mental health condition than adults who have a substance abuse disorder. And so that’s been a huge concern over the pandemic,” Rahmandar said.

Summers says this trend should be a wake-up call to parents.

“Pay attention. Start talking to the kids openly. Start addressing issues that they’re having from a young age we need to start teaching them how to deal with it. And quit going ‘Oh they’ll be ok.’ Because they’re not and this is what we see,” Summers said.

So far this year, the Chicago area has seen at least 19 teens and pre-teens die from a drug overdose.