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'Ubiquitous' Nature Of Painkillers Lands Kids — Even Toddlers — In The ER

By Kaiser Health News  
   November 01, 2016

A surprising group of patients are suffering from opioid poisoning at rates that have also marked a dramatic increase: adolescents, children and even toddlers.

This article first appeared October 31, 2016 on Kaiser Health News.

By Shefali Luthra

As the nation continues to confront an epidemic of opioid and prescription painkiller addiction and overdoses, its victims seem to flood emergency rooms. But a study out Monday highlights a surprising group of patients suffering from opioid poisoning at rates that have also marked a dramatic increase: adolescents, children and even toddlers.

Because of what the authors call "the now widespread availability of prescription opioids in the United States" — with retail sales of these medications quadrupling from 1999 to 2010 — they sought to examine for the first time the rate of pediatric hospitalizations related to these drugs.

The findings, they say, indicate a need for comprehensive strategies that not only continue to tamp down on opioid prescriptions, but also step up efforts to raise awareness about the packaging and safe storage of these painkillers.

"It's exposure. Opioids are ubiquitous now," said Julie Gaither, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale School of Public Health and the study's lead author. "Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They're everywhere, and kids are getting into them."

Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study analyzed hospitalization data for children between 1997 and 2012, examining more than 13,000 hospital-discharge records for opioid poisonings and using Census data to extrapolate how common these pediatric opioid overdoses were. They used discharge records collected every three years between 1997 and 2012 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

One possible limitation: The data stops in 2012 and, therefore, rates may not reflect a dipping or plateauing because of increased awareness of the opioid epidemic. But the findings track with adult rates of abuse and addiction, which have dropped since 2012 but remain troublingly high, experts say.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.


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