According to researchers, opioid painkillers prescribed for family members has somehow made its way to the hands of young children, causing an increase in opioid poisoning.
Researchers were able to determine that the rate of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning increased 165 percent from 1997 to 2012; about 1.40 per 100,000 kids to 3.71 per 100,000, with a total 176 recorded deaths in the past six years, as published in the JAMA Network.
In the study, researchers gathered data by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and analyzed more than 13,000 hospital-discharge records from 1997 to 2012, using census data to extrapolate rates.
“Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They’re everywhere, and kids are getting into them,” said Julie Gaither, the study’s lead author.
Increasing from 0.86 per 100,000 to 2.62 per 100,000, researchers quickly noticed that the rate of toddlers hospitalized for poisoning multiplied over the years.
In the case of toddlers, it may very well be that these very young victims took the drugs thinking they were candy. But aside from toddlers, teenagers are also at a risk of overdosing on their parents’ medication.
Compared to children, teens were the most likely to be hospitalized for opioid poisoning, and even for intended purposes as a result of depression and suicide, researchers suggested.
In 2012, 10.17 per 100,000 teenagers received hospitalized for opioid poisoning, based on the study’s data.
The study’s findings have raised awareness for patients with kids who should be receiving guidance on how and where to store the painkillers.
“Pediatricians could also play a role by asking parents at well-child and well-baby visits about whether there’s a risk of children being exposed to opioids. But that sort of screening hasn’t traditionally been drilled into doctors the same way as discussing other risks, such as safe storage of cleaning supplies, whether the family has a swimming pool and whether there are guns in the home,” NPR reported.
The study lasted until 2012, just a few years before the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a dire warning on opioid painkillers.
“Just when you thought the opioid epidemic couldn’t get any worse, U.S. health officials are now issuing dire warnings for patients who mix the painkiller drugs with certain sedatives, or tranquilizers, including the highly-prescribed benzodiazepines,” according to a piece I wrote earlier this year.
All in all, with this new study, researchers should begin to recognize that adults are not the only ones experiencing an opioid crisis, as children are too.
“Kids make up about a fourth of the U.S. population, and they’re suffering from this crisis too,” said Gaither, the study’s co-author.