The opioid epidemic has spread across the United States. Now the youngest victims, children, are paying the price as opioid poisonings and overdoses are sending an alarming number of kids to hospitals.
According to newly-released data in “Pediatrics,” the nation has seen a substantial rise in child patients needing critical care. Opioid-related admissions increased from under 800 to 1,500 during the study. The results reinforce research published in 2017 that found the annual rate of hospitalizations for opioid poisonings in children rose nearly 200% from 1997-2012
The most common opioid poisonings and overdoses were among kids aged 12-17 and those aged 1 to 5.
Many of the children involved in the study found the dangerous drugs in their own homes. Prescription painkillers were the most common culprit of the need for emergency medical treatment.
In cases of younger children, victims were more likely to require emergency care due to accidental overdose, while the teen victims were prone to overdosing by intentionally experimenting with prescription drugs, often prescribed to or obtained by their parents/guardians.
About 20% of the youngest victims – under 6-years-old – were hospitalized after swallowing methadone, an opioid used in the treatment of opioid addiction.
The lead author and an associate pediatrics professor at the University of Chicago and Comer Children’s Hospital, Dr. Jason Kane, says the reasons behind the spike in hospitalizations of children and teens due to opioid poisonings and overdoses is not clear. He feels the increased potency and availability of the drugs could be a large contributor.
“Opioids can depress your drive to breathe,”
Kane said the drugs can cause blood pressure to dip to gravely low levels. He included that the “rescue” drug Naloxone was used in almost one-third of the studied cases. Naloxone can revive patients who have stopped breathing due to opioid overdose.
“These kids are really the secondary victims of this adult opioid epidemic,”
Statistics revealed that 43 percent of child opioid-related hospital stays required intensive treatment.
Likely thanks to the availability of life-saving drugs, the annual deaths dropped from almost 3 percent to just over 1 percent of children hospitalized for opioid reactions.