Number of Children Hospitalized For Opioid Overdoses Rises

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Number of Children Hospitalized For Opioid Overdoses Rises

By Victoria Kim 03/07/18

A new study examined 11 years of patient data to determine the rate of opioid overdose-related hospitalization for children aged 1-17.

Doctor Talks To Mother With Teenage Daughter In Hospital

Since more than a decade ago, the number of kids aged 1-17 who were admitted to the hospital for opioid overdose almost doubled, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study used data from the Pediatric Health Information System Database of 3,647 patients in 31 U.S. children’s hospitals between 2004-2015.

From 2004-2007, 797 pediatric patients were hospitalized for opioid overdose; but from 2012-2015, that number increased to 1,504 patients.

Nearly half of patients (43%) were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. Lead author Dr. Jason Kane said he was struck by how many of the patients were severe cases.

One limitation of the study was that there was no way to distinguish between patients who had ingested opioids intentionally or accidentally. “When they come in, they’re going to fall into one of two categories: either they’re teenagers with intentional or drug-seeking behavior because of recreational or self-injurious behavior, or they’re kids who got into their parents’ medication,” said Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

However, the research team was able to determine that kids between 12-17, the oldest group, represented over 60% of the kids who were hospitalized.

Experts recommend storing prescription medication in “a locked space,” and properly disposing of unused or expired medication. A national survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that this isn’t the norm. Only 31% of adults surveyed, who used opioid painkillers and lived with kids under 17 years old, reported safely storing their medications.

Prevention is one way to stop the rising number of kids who get their hands on powerful opioid drugs.

“I think there needs to be a stronger emphasis to the adults receiving these drugs—these prescription medications—about the consequences that may happen to their families as a result of those drugs being in their homes,” said Kane. “These medications may cause side effects to you, but more importantly, if your young children get into them, they may be harmed, require hospital care, require the ICU, or in rare cases even die from that ingestion.”

This new report revisits the harm that children are exposed to because of the national opioid crisis. Some of these “secondary victims” of the opioid crisis, the children of people addicted to opioids, end up in foster care or in the custody of family members.

“Grandparents and other relatives are being deeply impacted by the opioid epidemic,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United. “They’re being called on more and more, and usually quite suddenly, to step in and take care of children whose parents are either in jail, in treatment programs, or dead.”

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