Accidental Opioid Deaths Among Babies, Toddlers Rise

By Kelly Burch 10/17/19

Opioid overdoses among children increased more than 268% between 1999 and 2016.


There is a second, often overlooked group of victims of the opioid crisis: babies and toddlers who are dying of accidental opioid overdoses. 

Fentanyl Exposure

One of the most jarring cases is that of 13-month-old Liam Savoy Oneill, who was found dead in September beside his father, Patrick Savoy Oneill, 29. Patrick was unresponsive, and later died at the hospital. The pair was found by Liam’s mother, Emily Guillory. 

Authorities believe that Patrick overdosed, and Liam was exposed to fentanyl that was left around, according to Fox 10.

"The officers who arrived at the scene located narcotics and narcotics paraphernalia in the bedroom, near where both of them were discovered," said Santa Rosa Police Department Lt. Dan Marincik. ”It's something you wouldn't wish anybody to experience, it was tough on our officers, and I can only imagine what the family is going through,"

Guillory said that Patrick had been attending NA meetings, and that he never would have intentionally harmed Liam. 

A 268% Increase In Accidental Overdoses Among Children

It’s difficult to know exactly how many children are dying of opioid overdoses, but research published last year found that opioid overdoses among children increased more than 268% between 1999 and 2016.

Most of the deaths were among teens ages 15-19, but the authors noted, “time trends revealed a steady linear increase among children aged 0 to 4 years and those aged 5 to 9 years.”

Last Christmas, an 18-month-old in Michigan died after ingesting an “extraordinary” amount of fentanyl. Authorities said that the girl's parents were packaging the drug in their home, and she accidentally ingested it.

“The nation is experiencing an opioid epidemic. However, to see an infant experience such a tragic death on Christmas morning as a result of ingesting a large quantity of her parents' fentanyl is truly gut-wrenching,” Eric Smith, Macomb County prosecutor, said in a news release reported by The Washington Post

Most of the reports of baby and toddler deaths involve a child getting into drugs that had been left around their home. Usually the exposure is accidental—but sometimes, it's intentional. Last month, a Maine mother was charged in connection with the death of her one-year-old daughter. 

Kimberly Nelligan, 33, admitted that she had rubbed what she believed to be heroin on the girl’s gums in order to help her sleep, according to The Bangor News. Nelligan said she had done the same with her two older children, but in this case the drugs contained fentanyl, and her daughter was found unresponsive in her crib. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.