The number opioid overdose deaths occurring throughout the United States have been at the forefront of national media attention for several years, but new research suggests that the epidemic may be disproportionately affecting children.
Opioid overdose hospitalizations involving children have nearly doubled in recent years, according to the findings of a study published this week in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine analyzed data for 13,000 national hospital discharge records from the Kids’ Inpatient Database, which included patients aged 1 to 19 who were hospitalized for opioid poisonings.
Hospitalizations following an overdose on an opioid drug increased nearly two-fold since 1997, and overdose hospitalizations among younger children skyrocketed by 205%.
The incidence of childhood hospitalizations due to opioid overdose rose from 1.4 hospitalizations per 100,000 children, to 3.71 hospitalization poisonings per 100,000 children, an increase of 165% during the period of time examined.
Poisoning hospitalization rates were highest in older adolescents; but the largest percentage increase in hospitalizations occurred among the youngest children; toddlers and preschoolers. Among children one to four years old, narcotic painkiller overdose increased from 0.86 to 2.62 per 100,000 children, an increase of 205%.
Hospitalizations due to poisonings also affected older children. Teens between the ages of 15 and 19 had an increase of opioid poisonings of 176%. This was a jump from 3.69 to 10.17 poisonings per 100,000 children.
The findings are in line with other studies, which conclude infants born with opioid withdrawal syndrome has increased more than 300% over the last decade.
Research published in May indicated that more than 3,000 reports are received each month at poison control centers involving opioid poisonings, and the overall opioid abuse epidemic has reached an all time high recently, with recent federal data indicate that the number of deaths from narcotic painkillers has increased 137% since 2000.
The recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics also focused on poisonings from heroin, which increased from 0.96 to 2.51 poisonings per 100,000 children. This was an increase of 161%. As for poisonings from methadone, those increased 950%. Methadone overdose hospitalizations increased from 0.10 to 1.05 per 100,000 children.
Researchers indicate that they conducted the study because they knew a “parallel relationship” between opioid prescribing and opioid poisoning hospitalizations existed for adults, but there were no estimates for children and adolescents.
“Reducing pediatric opioid exposure and misuse will require a combination of public health interventions, policy initiatives, and consumer-product regulations,” the researchers warned.