Opioid Poisonings In Toddlers & Teens Tripled Over 15-Year Period

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We’ve already seen how the opioid epidemic has spread like wildfire in the U.S. since the late ’90s, but a new study shows how children of every age group are increasingly being exposed (and exposing themselves) to dangerous levels of these painkillers.

The study, published today in JAMA Pediatrics by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine, looked at data from more than 13,000 pediatric opioid poisoning cases between 1997 and 2012 and found that these potentially lethal incidents doubled during that timeframe for all patients age 19 or younger, with older teens and toddlers/preschoolers seeing the biggest increase.

According to the data, opioid poisoning hospitalizations for patients between the ages 1-19 rose by 294% between 1997 and 2009 before flattening out in 2012.

The largest group, representing some 74% of all pediatric opioid poisonings in 2012, was teenagers (15-19). In the 15-year timeframe of the study, poisonings from this demographic group increased by 303%.

The study also has data from this age group on whether or not the poisoning was accidental or a result of a suicidal/self-inflicted intent. Hospitalizations for both categories increased over the course of the 15 years, but suicide/self-inflicted poisonings remained the more frequent of the two throughout.

The study also looked heroin and methadone poisonings among the 15-19 age group, and though neither came close to opioids, they both saw dramatic increases between 1997 and 2012. According to the researchers, heroin poisonings in these teens increased by 161% while methadone poisonings soared by 950%.

“Methadone is among the most misused of prescription drugs and is commonly diverted for illicit (nonmedical) purposes, such as getting high or to enhance the effects of alcohol or other drugs,” explains the study, which does acknowledge that methadone poisonings appear to have plateaued.

While toddlers and preschoolers (1-4 years old) only represented 14.4% of poisonings in 2012, this age group nonetheless saw the most dramatic increase in incidents, up 317% since 1997.

“The current public health crisis caused by prescription opioids is a systemic issue that affects individuals across the age spectrum,” concludes the study, which says that in spite of recent efforts to curb overprescription and abuse of opioids, these “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.”

[via StatNews]

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