Prescription painkiller and heroin addiction has laced its way through America, and effective anti-addiction treatments line the medicine cabinets of thousands of homes. Government researchers have discovered though drug treatment is effective in assisting addicts with their deadly dependence, in the hands of a child, it becomes lethal. They published their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

"Our hope is that we see a decline," the study’s lead author Dr. Daniel Budnitz, the director of medication safety at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press. Budnitz added that there have been changes in the drug's packaging since the study was completed, and he hopes it may help reduce the risks of easy access that threaten children.

The anti-addiction drug that has everyone worried is buprenorphine, which has proven to be an effective treatment since its release. However, for every 100,000 patients prescribed buprenorphine, 200 young children have been hospitalized, which is four times as high as the second most accidentally swallowed drug by children used for treating blood pressure. The study analyzed data between 2007 to 2011, and although it did not focus on the amount of deaths it’s responsible for, there were children who died as a direct result of swallowing these pills.

It’s not just the children who think they’ve got their hands on a pill bottle full of candy, but also the teenagers who become swayed by a dangerous peak in curiosity that needs to be looked after. Once the drugs enter their home, it’s difficult to monitor their use unless the prescriptions are placed in a lock box or out of their reach. Making it a requirement to have them as far away from children and teens as possible by using a lock box may be the only way to quell a child’s accidental ingestion or a teen’s misguided mischief.

Every day 2,500 kids between the ages 12 to 17 abuse a painkiller for the first time, according to the New York Department of Health. Intervention between parents and teens should be a high priority, if not a complete and utter necessity if any prescription painkillers or anti-addiction medications enter the household. Considering only 31 percent of teens report having learned about the risk of drugs from their parents, there is another 69 percent who are unaccounted for and do not receive verbal deterrence. With a total of 4.5 million American adolescents reporting they’ve abused prescription drugs, it stands to reason adults need to do more than just worry about their children finding pills mistaken as candy, but watch out for their kids who know exactly what they’re intentionally placing in their mouth.

Buprenorphine isn’t used to get high, but actually a drug prescribed from a doctor to help treat opioid addiction by suppressing symptoms of withdrawal. Opioids are medications used to relieve pain by reducing the strength of pain signals reaching the area of the brain that controls emotions. It’s essentially a prescription painkiller addiction that has swiftly claimed lives across the nation and includes hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), morphine (Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and of course, heroin.

There are currently one million people in the United States addicted to heroin alone and another 1.4 million people dependent on or abusing all other opioids, including the seductively addictive prescription painkillers, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. There are a myriad of stories that start off with a spouse breaking an arm and being prescribed painkillers only to find out their addictive personality meshes seamlessly with them, or after a visit to the dentist, the patient becomes hooked on the calm humming high the painkiller delivers. Then it segues into heroin, a cheaper opioid with a more pungent and lethal high.

It’s a vicious cycle, which is why opiates are labeled as a significant abuse liability. In order to ease a person off of these highly addictive drugs, a partial opioid agonist, such as buprenorphine, was created that provides much less euphoria and physical dependence than the typical painkiller or heroin dose, and a more mild withdrawal, according to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. It’s an easement off of a destructive road to becoming an addict.

The first opiate addiction treatment was methadone, released in the 1960s specifically designed for heroin addiction; however, it’s now highly regulated in specialized clinics. Naltrexone came next in 1984 and proved to be a highly effective opioid receptor blocker that could reverse the effects of an overdose, but didn’t really help patients with their addiction on a long-term basis. There wasn’t a truly effective and reliable medication on the market until buprenorphine became a routine prescription for addicts because of its long-acting effects that can relieve cravings for their drug of choice without giving them the high they’re seeking.

It’s actually up to 50 times more potent than a painkiller, which is why when children get their hands on buprenorphine it becomes a lethal dosage that causes vomiting, sedation, and dangerously slowed breathing. The drugs are typically sold in individual packaged film strips that dissolve underneath the tongue, but it’s the bottles of tablets that are scariest when children manage to get them open, Budnitz said, because they’re at risk for swallowing many at a time. One manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc., announced in 2012 they would stop making the brand name Suboxone tablets in the United States, in order to avoid risk to children. The more securely-wrapped generic tablets, however, are still available.

Source: Budnitz D. Pediatrics. 2014.