The opioid epidemic sweeping the nation isn’t just affecting addicted adults, it has accidentally poisoned toddlers and teenagers. From 1992 through 2010, the number of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning doubled, a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, studied more than 13,000 hospital discharge papers from 1992-2010 and found that teens, children and toddlers were all hospitalized from opioid poisoning at a greater rate than ever before. The number doubled over the 16 year period, rising from 1.40 per 100,000 children to 3.71 per 100,000 children. For toddlers alone, the rates went from 0.86 per 100,000 kids to 2.62 per 100,000 kids. While small children and toddlers were poisoned by accidental consumption, many adolescent hospitalizations were due to suicide or intentional ingestion.
“It’s exposure. Opioids are everywhere now,” Julie Gaither, a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale School of Public Health and the study’s lead author, told the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They’re everywhere, and kids are getting to them.”
The increased hospitalization of children directly corresponds with the opioid crisis in the U.S. During the 16 years analyzed, retail sales of opioids quadrupled. Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. with 60 percent of overdoses caused by opioids. As of June 2016, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions were being dispensed daily. As a result, an average of 78 people were dying from an opioid overdose every day. The crisis has cost $55 billion in health and social costs and $20 billion in emergency and hospital care.
The study recommended that more attention be paid to children of adults who are being prescribed opioids for pain. It also urged a combination of education, regulations and policy initiatives.
“We’ve got to pay attention to children and the toll the opioid crisis is taking on them,” said Gaither. “Kids make up about a fourth of the U.S. population, and they’re suffering from this crisis, too.”