Children who died from fatal poisoning were often at home and in the presence of an adult.
Opioids caused more than 50% of poisoning-related deaths among children aged 5 years and younger, according to a study published by experts at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in the journal Pediatrics. The study authors urged for intervention to prevent further fatalities.
"By comprehensively assessing fatal poisonings among children at a national level, we were able to better understand the scale of this tragic and preventable public health issue," said first study author Christopher Gaw, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow, Poison Control Center and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, CHOP, in a press release.
In 2005, 24.1% of deaths among children aged 5 years and younger can be attributed to opioids. In 2018, 52.2% of deaths were caused by opioids, which are now the primary substance that causes death among this population—largely due to the US opioid epidemic. OTC medications for pain, cold, and allergies can also be deadly, as they are the second most common contributor to death by poisoning among this age group.
However, understanding the scope of fatal poisonings in young children is still a challenge.
That is why the authors of the current study collected data from 40 states that participated in the National Fatality Review-Case Reporting System. It allowed the team to collect data on children aged 5 years and younger who died from poisoning between 2005 and 2008.
The data showed that more than 40% of deaths related to poisoning occurred in children less than 1 year of age. Among this population, at least 65% of deaths occurred at home. About 33% of children who died from a poisoning incident were also in the presence of an older person who is not the biological parent.
Children aged 5 years and younger account for more than 50% of all poisonings in general. This age group has the most emergency department visits for unintentional drug-related poisoning, despite the widespread use of child-resistant packaging for hazardous substances and medicines.
"It's clear from these findings that preventing fatal pediatric poisonings requires a multifaceted approach involving caregiver education and community-level interventions," said senior study author Daniel J. Corwin, MD, MSCE, attending physician, associate director of Research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at CHOP, in the press release.
In the 2010s, public health initiatives reduced substance-related deaths. Unfortunately, new and synthetic opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, are regressing this positive trend. Unit dose packaging is an example of a recent medication safety initiative that was enacted to reduce the number of accidental drug exposures, but it is not included on every prescription opioid, nor does it impact illicit opioid drugs.
"One such intervention is improving the availability of naloxone for the public, which can rapidly reverse opioid overdose and is safe and effective for use in children," Corwin said in the press release.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. CHOP Researchers Find Rate of Fatal Opioid Poisonings Among Children More Than Doubled Over 13-Year Span. News Release. March 8, 2023. Accessed March 13, 2023. https://prnmedia.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chop-researchers-find-rate-of-fatal-opioid-poisonings-among-children-more-than-doubled-over-13-year-span-301765638.html
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