As the opioid epidemic continues to plague America and destroy lives, a new study has found that the number of children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose in the United States has nearly doubled since 2004. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that emergency departments in the U.S. saw a spike of opioid-related diagnoses from 2004 to 2015, with the bulk of the childhood opioid exposure resulting from careless medication storage.
For the study, researchers looked at the records from emergency departments between 2004 and 2015. The data revealed that in the three year period between 2012 and 2015, a total of 1,504 pediatric patients were admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose. That rate is nearly double the 797 kids admitted for opioid overdose between 2004 and 2007. Data also showed that the bulk of the opioid admissions were a result children finding their parents’ prescription medication.
“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,” wrote lead auth Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
Researchers were surprised to find that childhood exposure to opioids went beyond prescription pain medication. In fact, nearly one-fifth of the overdoses for kids under the age of six occurred as a result of ingesting methadone. Methadone is commonly used as a substitute drug in the treatment of morphine and heroin addiction and can help treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
“The thing that was a bit striking is that in the youngest children, those under six years of age, 20 percent of the ingestions were of methadone,” Kane said. “So you sort of have to ask yourself: where are they getting all this methadone from?”
The answer? Parents. Opioid abuse has skyrocketed among adults over the last few years and according to the CDC, more than 42,000 people died due to opioid overdose in 2016, the highest number of opioid-related deaths ever recorded in a year. The government has attempted to increase opioid treatment, through the administration of methadone, for instance, but the intervention appears to come at a cost. Kane notes that the increased prescriptions allow for more and more children to become “secondary victims.”
“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,” Kane concludes.