A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found that the number of children admitted to hospitals in the U.S. because of opioid overdose nearly doubled between 2004 and 2015 to 1,504 patients.
The study looked at people between the ages of 1 and 17 who were admitted to the hospital for opioid-related reasons. Children between the ages of 12 and 17 accounted for 60% of children admitted for opioid poisoning, but the study did not differentiate between those who ingested opioids accidentally and those who did so on purpose. Children between 1 and 5 were the next most likely, accounting for 30% of hospital admissions. The researchers said these cases were probably caused by children finding their parents’ prescribed and non-prescribed opioids.
While the admission rate has increased, the percentage of children who died of opioid overdose fell from 2.8% between 2004 and 2007 to 1.3% between 2012 and 2015, indicating that doctors are getting better at taking care of opioid patients. Still, the best way to prevent opioid illness and death among children is to prevent them from accessing the drugs in the first place. The authors of the study had some advice about preventing child overdoses.
Lock up your medication
The authors of the study emphasised the need for parents who have opioids in the house to keep them locked away from children and to take expired or unneeded pills back to a pharmacy for proper disposal. That will help prevent children from finding and accidentally ingesting the medication.
Control the supply
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to tackle the opioid crisis from the supply side. They say the major issues lie in the improper prescription of the medicine. The CDC has published guidelines to help doctors decide when it is safe and appropriate to prescribe opioids.
Invest in alternatives
Many scientists are researching non-addictive alternatives to opioid pain management. For instance, researchers at University College London are testing an alternative painkiller to which animals studied do not develop a tolerance. It is more difficult to develop a dependence on drugs that don’t build up a tolerance, and thus such alternative painkillers would help limit the supply of drugs in homes and thus limit their exposure to children.