Opioid Poisoning Increasing in Children


Opioid poisonings attributed to methadone in teenagers increased 950% from 1997 to 2012.

A recent study found that hospitalizations from opioid poisoning is on the rise in children and adolescents, suggesting that the nationwide prescription opioids problem is affecting children as well.

They also discovered that an increasing amount of individuals experienced opioid poisonings due to suicide attempts, self-inflicting injury, or accidents.

The use of prescription and illicit opioids has increased dramatically, and has gained much traction in the media. Pictures depicting parents overdosing on opioids while their children are in distress nearby reinforce that the opioid epidemic is spreading.

While some states have implemented plans and strategies to prevent it from spreading further, new research published by JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the epidemic has affected children as well, and should be targeted in some prevention initiatives.

Increasing awareness related to pediatric opioid-related poisonings and deaths is needed, since prescription opioids are widely prescribed to adults, and can also be prescribed to children in some cases. In the study, researchers examined pediatric discharge records every 3 years from 1997 to 2012.

By using diagnostic codes, they found that 13,052 pediatric patients were admitted for opioid poisonings. During this time, 176 pediatric patients died as a result of opioid poisoning.

Overall, they estimated that the number of children ages 1- to 19-years-old hospitalized due to opioid poisonings increased by 165% (1.40 to 3.71 per 100,000 children) during this time.

Even more significant findings were seen among very young children aged 1- to 4-years-old. In this group, hospitalizations increased 205% or 0.86 to 2.62 per 100,000 children from 1997 to 2012, according to the study.

In teenagers aged 15- to 19-years-old, hospitalization from opioid poisonings increased 176% (from 3.69 to 10.17 per 100,000 children). Poisonings from heroin among this population also increased by 161% over this period of time.

Perhaps the most surprising of all, methadone poisonings increased 950% from 0.10 to 1.05 per 100,000 children, according to the study.

Males accounted for a larger share of hospitalizations, increasing from 34.7% in 1997 to 47.4% in 2012. Caucasian children and those with private insurance accounted for 73.5% and 48.8% of hospitalizations, respectively. The amount of Medicaid-insured children who were admitted to the hospital for opioid poisoning also increased from 24.1% to 44% in 2012.

During the study period, there were 16 children younger than 10-years-old who attempted suicide or self-injury. This occurrence increased 37% from 0.62 to 0.85 per 100,000 children, according to the study.

Accidental poisonings increased 82% during this time as well, suggesting that the prescription drugs were in reach of these young children.

Attempted suicides or self-injuries increased 140% in individuals 15- to 19-years-old. Accidental opioid poisonings increased by 303% during this time.

The researchers disclosed that their findings are limited since it relies on diagnosis codes, which may not always be correct, and they are unable to validate the codes with toxicology results.

“Our research, however, suggests that poisonings by prescription and illicit opioids are likely to remain a persistent and growing problem in the young unless greater attention is directed toward the pediatric community, who make up nearly one-quarter of the US population,” the study concluded.

“In addition, further resources should be directed toward addressing opioid misuse and abuse during adolescence.”

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