America has an opioid problem. And now it’s impacting more than just adults.
An analysis of how the growing presence of opioids in Americans’ homes is impacting children found that hospitalizations for opioid poisoning increased 165 percent between 1997 and 2012. The jump was even higher among kids aged 1 to 4, spiking 205 percent over 16 years.
“The current public health crisis caused by prescription opioids is a systemic issue that affects individuals across the age spectrum,” said the new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s pediatric publication. “Poisonings by prescription and illicit opioids are likely to remain a persistent and growing problem in the young unless greater attention is directed toward the pediatric community, who make up nearly one-quarter of the US population.”
The study examined 13,052 discharge records for patients aged 1 to 19 years hospitalized for opioid poisoning.
Prescription drug poisoning is now the leading cause of injury-related death in the country, largely attributed to the increasing popularity of substances to treat chronic pain. Opioid use among younger children is largely accidental, while older kids have a larger likelihood of taking the powerful drugs on purpose. Hospitalization for such cases among kids aged 15 to 19 increased 140 percent.
“In contrast to poisoning intent in younger children, poisonings in those older than 10 years were primarily attributed to suicide or self-inflicted injury,” the study found. “These data underscore the dangers associated with the widespread availability of prescription opioids, particularly for adolescents at risk for depression.”
The study noted that it is believed many adolescents self-medicate with prescription drugs.
Hospitalizations caused by methadone, a prescription drug often used for getting high or enhancing the effects of alcohol, increased 950 percent among 15- to 19-year-olds.
As with the opioid crisis among adults, the majority of victims tend to be white. Approximately 75 percent of the hospitalizations examined were among whites.
“Our findings are consistent with previous research demonstrating that as physicians have increasingly relied on prescription opioids to treat chronic pain during the past 2 decades, rates for opioid poisonings have risen in tandem,” the study found.