An Alarming Number of Kids Are Getting Their Hands on Opioids
From 2000 to 2015, more than 188,000 phone calls were made to US
published in the
Addiction to opioids such as codeine, fentanyl, and oxycodone has emerged as a serious health problem in America. These drugs, which work to decrease the perception of pain , are often accompanied by several problematic side-effects, including dependence, sedation, and a strong sense of euphoria. Prescription painkillers are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, prompting some jurisdictions to declare a public health emergency . But as the new Pediatrics study shows, the problem is even worse than we realize; thousands of kids-either by accident or on purpose-are coming into contact with opioids on a far too frequent basis.
For the study, Nationwide Hospital researchers Gary Smith and Marcel Casavant pulled data from the National Poison Data System, which is managed by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). Over the course of the 16 years analyzed, most child-related exposures happened to kids under the age of five (60 percent), followed by teenagers (30 percent), and 6-12 year olds (10 percent) The most common opioids kids came in contact with are hydrocodone at 29 percent, oxycodone at 18 percent, and codeine at 17 percent of exposures.
Among children under the age of five, most exposures were accidental, occurring at home. In these cases, the children likely found the drugs while rummaging through the
It's a different story for teens. More than two-thirds of exposures were deliberate; either teens were trying to get high off the drugs, or more disturbingly, trying to kill themselves. Over the course of the 16-year study period, the researchers observed a 50 percent increase in the rate of prescription-related suicides among teens. This age group was also more likely to be admitted to a
"The opioid crisis which has been affecting our adult population has now trickled down to our children," said Casavant in a press statement. "When adults bring these medications into their homes, they can become a danger to the children that live there. It is important that these medications are stored up, away and out of sight of kids of all ages, in a locked cabinet is best."
The researchers also recommend that prescription opioids be packaged more frequently in blister packs, or single-dose packaging, rather than batches of loose pills in a bottle. They also said physicians need to be more discriminate about handing out prescriptions.
"As physicians, we need to find a balance between making sure that we are helping our patients manage their pain, and making sure we don't prescribe more or stronger medication than they need," said Smith. "While overall rates of exposure to opioids among children are going down, they are still too high. We need to continue to examine our prescription practices and to increase education to parents about safe ways to store these medications at home to keep them out of the hands of children."
The one glimmer of good news the study offers is that exposure to prescription opioids has been decreasing overall, for all age groups of children, since hitting a peak in 2009-except for buprenorphine, which is used to treat heroin addiction. Hopefully, this downward trend will continue into the future as parents get the message about keeping dangerous prescription drugs away from children.
[ Pediatrics ]