Study shows opioid poisonings and overdoses sent more children to hospitals

Joy Montgomery
March 7, 2018

"Children accidentally getting into medications is not a new phenomenon but this is probably a reflection of the massive amount of drugs, opioid drugs, that are available to children in the community", explained Dr. Kane, one of the study's authors.

Jason M. Kane, M.D., from the University of Chicago, and colleagues assessed trends in the rate of PICU admission for opioid-related ingestion over time using billing data from the Pediatric Health Information System (2004 to 2015).

Dr. Kane said about 20 percent of the youngest children were poisoned by methadone, an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain or opioid dependence in adults This means many young children are likely finding their parents' medication and ingesting it, Dr. Kane said.

The number of hospitalizations that required admission to the pediatric intensive care unit also doubled. In addition, 37 percent of the young patients had to be put on mechanical ventilators and more than a fifth required medication to prevent cardiac arrest, the researchers found.

While the opioid-related incidents were a relatively small percentage of the almost 4.2 million children's hospitalizations during the 11-year study, they reflected a 35 percent increase in pediatric intensive-care admissions for ingesting the drugs, according to the study. He also hopes more responsible prescribing practices and laws will start to bring the number of child hospitalizations down in the years to come. The opioids cited in the cases ranged from prescription painkillers to heroin and methadone.

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Around 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder, according to federal estimates. They found that between 2004 and 2015, there were a total of 3,647 opioid-related hospitalizations in 31 different hospitals. The total number of hospital days attributed to children with opioid ingestion also "continues to increase over time at an alarming rate".

There's no question that the opioid epidemic is worsening.

But parents of older kids also need to keep a watchful eye over any prescription opioids, Ryan stressed. Synthetic opioid overdoses killed 20,000 people in 2016, the CDC says.

But while the focus is usually on adults, children have become "the second wave of victims", Kane said.

Parsons says the study shows the importance of keeping opioids out of the hands of children by locking them up, or via initiatives like drug take-back programs.

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