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Number of Children Poisoned by Opioids Doubles

OpioidsKids in homes where drugs are present are more at-risk than ever, with a growing number of children and teens ending up in the E.R. due to prescription opioid poisoning, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics.

Poisoned By Opioids

Study findings

Researchers recently studied U.S. hospital discharge records over a 16-year period, from 1997 to 2012. According to the paper, the largest percentage increase of prescription opioid poisonings – a whopping 205 percent – occurred among children ages one to 4, most of whom ingested the opioids accidentally.  Teens ages 15 to 19 experienced the most poisonings overall, with most overdoses resulting from a suicide attempt or recreational use.  Across all age groups of children in the study, hospitalizations nearly doubled.

A fatal epidemic for the youngest in our population

As a recent Wall Street Journal article explains, these drugs are killing people in record numbers. “Opioids were the most common cause of the nation’s 47,000 drug-overdose deaths in 2014—a record that exceeded the number of people killed in car accidents.”

A bigger problem is this: Most past research on opioids has primarily focused on adults. But, according to Daniel Miller, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa, more emphasis should be placed on recognizing the dangerous effects on children and adolescents. In the same WSJ article, he says he’s noticed a distinct uptick. “Prescription-drug use seemed much less common among teens when I graduated from medical school,” Miller said. “Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a change. The age of patients I see displaying drug-seeking behavior keeps getting lower and lower.”

Need for intervention

It is no surprise that opioid poisoning rates have risen so sharply, given the drastic increase in opioid prescriptions overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors wrote nearly a quarter of a billion prescriptions for them in 2013—with wide variation across states. To put it in perspective, that amount is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

When leftover prescription medications remain in a home, the likelihood a child will find them increases greatly.

Though there is no one clear answer on how to address this growing problem, it’s become clear that comprehensive strategies for opioid storage, packaging, and misuse are more necessary than ever. These kinds of changes will serve to protect vulnerable children from the dangers of opioid poisoning.

Getting help

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, or any other substance abuse problem, we can help. The Watershed is here to offer you and your loved ones the care and support you need to get well. Contact us now for more information.

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