Children’s Hospitals Seeing Increase In Opioid Injuries

Children nationwide appear to be increasingly, and disproportionately affected by the growing opioid crisis in the United States, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the March issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers warn that pediatric opioid-related injuries have increased rapidly at hospitals nationwide, causing many hospitalizations and deaths.

Researchers from several U.S. children’s hospitals analyzed data from the Pediatric Health Information System, focusing on pediatric hospitalizations for opioid ingestions from 2004 to 2015. Admission to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and use of naloxone, vasopressors, and ventilation in billing data codes were used to assess opioid involvement.

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The study found a total of 3,647 pediatric opioid-related hospitalizations in 31 hospitals. Of those, 43% required PICU care. Opioids ultimately led to the death of about 2% of the children affected.

The number of opioid related hospitalizations requiring PICU care doubled between 2004 and 2015, according to the findings. The rates of PICU admission for opioid-related causes increased from 24.9 to 35.9 per 10,000 PICU admissions.

The findings indicate that 37% of pediatric patients needed mechanical ventilator support. About 20% of patients required vasopressors.

A recent FDA warning indicated that opioids are much too dangerous for children to use. The agency called for narcotic painkillers, including codeine in cough syrup, from being prescribed to children. Yet, despite the warning, many children are still being given opioid medications.

“The U.S. opioid crisis is negatively impacting children, and the rate of hospitalization and PICU admission for pediatric opioid ingestions is increasing,” the researchers concluded. “Current efforts to reduce adult opioid use have not curtailed the incidence of pediatric opioid ingestions, and additional efforts are needed to reduce preventable opioid exposure in children.”

A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that  adult emergency room visits for opioid overdoses have spiked in the past few years. Opioid overdose visits increased nearly 6% per quarter from July 2016 to September 2017. In fact, opioid deaths now outnumber breast cancer deaths.


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