Opioids are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in children, study finds

Opioids have been the leading cause of fatal poisonings among children age 5 and younger in recent years, a study has found, highlighting that the opioid epidemic has not spared children.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed 731 poisoning-related deaths that occurred from 2005 to 2018 in 40 states. The authors found that opioids, a class of synthetic drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, were responsible for nearly half, or 47%, of those deaths.

About 41% of those poisoning deaths were the result of accidental overdoses, according to the study, which called 18% “intentional” poisonings.

And over a 14-year period from 2005 to 2018, the incidence of pediatric opioid poisonings rose steadily, accounting for more than half of all pediatric poisoning deaths in 2018, the authors concluded.

“Strikingly, opioids accounted for an increasing proportion of substances contributing to poisoning-related deaths over the study period, from 24% in 2005 to 52% in 2018,” the authors write, adding that the data highlight “an increasing impact the opioid epidemic among children.”

The authors’ findings point to a changing landscape of the potential effects of opiates on children. In the past decade, children have not only been exposed to common prescription opioids, but have also been surrounded by “new opioid sources” such as heroin and synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and buprenorphine, a drug used in drug addiction treatment. opiates. , the study says. These over-the-counter opioids are not covered by long-established federal safeguards that require child-resistant packaging of the drugs.

“As the burden of over-the-counter opioids increases in our nation’s communities, children have more opportunities for exposure, sometimes with fatal outcomes,” Dr. Christopher E. Gaw, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Officer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and in research. lead author said in an interview.

The study cites statistics from the National Center for Fatalities Review and Prevention.

The study found that about 42% of the 731 deaths were among infants 1 year of age or younger, and most incidents occurred in the child’s home. Many of the fatal poisonings occurred while the child was in care, and nearly 100 children had open child protective services cases at the time of death, the authors noted.

Over-the-counter pain, cold and allergy medications were the second most common substance contributing to child poisoning deaths. According to the study, they make up about 15% and most often affect children under the age of 2.

Gaw said the results provide evidence of “how the opioid epidemic has not spared our nation’s infants and young children.” He said prevention efforts could focus on increasing the availability and familiarity of naloxone, as well as better educating caregivers about the signs of poisoning.

“There are so many toxic substances in our world that can harm children,” Gove said. “It’s really amazing how only one class of substances is so often implicated in child poisoning deaths.”

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