Opioid Overdose Among Children Has Doubled Since 2004

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The number of children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose has nearly doubled since 2004, according to a new study.

The study, which published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at children between ages 1 and 17 who were admitted to hospitals and pediatric intensive care units with opioid-related diagnoses from 2004 to 2015. Researchers found that the number of children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose nearly doubled to 1,504 patients between 2012 and 2015, from 797 patients between 2004 and 2007.

The researchers cautioned that many of these children likely overdosed after stumbling upon their parents’ prescription medications.

“When they come in, they’re going to fall into one of two categories: either they’re teenagers with intentional or drug-seeking behavior because of recreational or self-injurious behavior, or they’re kids who got into their parents’ medication,” said Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago and a lead author on the study.

“The thing that was a bit striking is that in the youngest children, those under six years of age, 20% of the ingestions were of methadone. So you sort of have to ask yourself: where are they getting all this methadone from?” Methadone is prescribed for the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms and also as a pain killer.

Using data from the Pediatric Health Information System Database, the researchers identified 3,647 patients in 31 children’s hospitals across the country who were admitted with opioid-related diagnoses.

Of these, 43% ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit, which is typically only reserved for the most severe, and life-threatening, cases.

“What was really striking to me is just how sick these kids are and that almost half of them end up in the ICU,” Kane said. “The reason why that’s important to recognize is that nationwide there’s only about 4,100 pediatric ICU beds, which is in contrast to the number of adult ICU beds, which is closer to 78,000.

“So everytime you put a child in a pediatric ICU bed, you’re using a very limited resource,” he added. “And if we fill our pediatric ICU beds with patients who have entirely preventable conditions, we will not be able to give those beds to patients who truly need them for unpreventable medical conditions.”

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SOURCE: CNN, Mark Lieber