The Grapevine

Painkiller Dangers: More Children Are Being Poisoned By Prescription Opioids

Fatalities related to opioids are rising drastically — in 2014, about 18,893 overdose deaths in the U.S. were related to prescription pain relievers, the American Society of Addiction Medicine reported. But, does this epidemic only affect adults? A new investigative study has found that, between 1997 and 2012, the number of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning has increased 165 percent.

Researchers used census data to reach these results and analyze trend rates. The team examined more than 13,000 hospital-discharge records from 1997 to 2012 for opioid poisonings. The data stops in 2012, but experts have said that adult rates of abuse and addiction have dropped since 2012 — despite remaining troublingly high.

child In five years, the rate of children being poisoned by opioids has increased by 165 percent. Photo courtesy of Pexels

"Opioids are ubiquitous now," the study’s lead author Julie Gaither told NPR. "Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They're everywhere, and kids are getting into them."

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that teens, out of all children, are the group most likely to be hospitalized for opioid poisoning, and they are more likely to have deliberately ingested the medication. Meanwhile, the rate of toddlers hospitalized more than doubled in the five-year span.

"This is largely seen as an adolescent problem or an adult problem," Sharon Levy, who directs the adolescent substance abuse program at Boston Children's Hospital and is an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, but was not involved with the study, told NPR. "But this paper really highlights that this really knows no age boundaries."

Source: Gaither JR, Leventhal JM, Ryan SA, et al. National Trends in Hospitalizations for Opioid Poisonings Among Children and Adolescents, 1997 to 2012. JAMA Pediatrics. 2016.

Read more:

Do Opioids Make Chronic Pain Worse? New Study Looks At Morphine, Oxycodone, And Other Prescription Meds

The Price Of Painkiller Addiction: US Opioid Epidemic Has Cost An Estimated $78.5 Billion

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