The number of children hospitalized due to accidental opioid poisoning has jumped threefold in recent years. This has caused public health experts to call for initiatives to address the overprescribing of the drugs and to raise awareness of the importance of safe storage of the powerful prescription painkillers.
According to a Yale School of Public Health study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the number of opioid poisonings in children aged 1 to 4 increased 205 percent from 1997 to 2012. Poisonings among teenagers 15 to 19 increased 176 percent. Overall, there was a 165 percent increase in opioid poisonings among children and young adults ages 19 and younger.
Most of the poisonings among children younger than 10 years of age were accidental. Lead researcher Julie Gaither said children are “eating them like candy.” Most poisonings among teenagers were accidental overdoses, though some were suicide attempts. The most common culprits were painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from children’s hospitals from 1997 to 2012 in three-year intervals. More than 13,000 records of children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisonings were identified, as well as records of heroin poisonings among teens. Just more than 1 percent of children died during hospitalization.
The prescription drug epidemic has become a growing concern in the United States, with opioids being the most misused and abused prescription drug in the country. They are more widely prescribed today than ever before, “so we now have opioids in millions of American homes, and children and teens are exposed to them more frequently,” says lead Yale researcher Julie Gaither, a postdoctoral fellow in biostatistics.
Federal agencies are calling on doctors to only prescribe the medicationss if no other therapy options are suitable. This has helped curb access to the painkillers, but it is also driving the cost of opioids up, which has made teens turn to heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available.
Sources: CBS News and RightingInjustice.com
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