Opioids Account for Nearly Half of Fatal Child Poisonings in U.S., Study Warns

Opioids went from being responsible for about a quarter of child poisoning deaths in 2005, to accounting for more than half of such deaths by 2018, researchers report.

According to the findings of a new study, exposure to opioid-based pain medications account for more than half of all child poisoning deaths, highlighting another impact from the on-going opioid epidemic that has plagued communities nationwide.

Researchers with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia indicate that deaths among children involving opioids has increased significantly since 2005, when they only accounted for less than a quarter of child drug poisoning deaths. However, the powerful pain medications are now the leading cause of accidental child poisonings in the United States.

The findings were published last week in the medical journal Pediatrics, including data from 40 states participating in the National Fatality Review-Case Reporting System. Researchers reviewed deaths attributed to drug poisonings among children younger than 5 years old from 2005 to 2018, indicating that a total of 731 child poisoning fatalities were reported to the National Fatality Review-Case Reporting System.

Nearly one-third of those children were supervised by an individual other than the biological parent when the poisoning occurred. About 16% of children had an open child protective services case at the time of death.

Opioids were the most common substance leading to accidental child poisoning deaths. While opioids were involved in 24% of child poisoning cases that led to death in 2005, that rate rose to 52% by 2018.

Other than opioids, over-the-counter pain, cold, and allergy medications were the next most common substances. Pain, cold, and allergy medications accounted for 15% of accidental deaths in children.

The findings also indicated two-fifths of deaths occurred among infants younger than one year old, and about 65% of deaths occurred in the child’s home.

“Opioids were the most common substances contributing to fatal poisonings among young children” the researchers concluded. “Over-the-counter medications continue to account for pediatric fatalities even after regulatory changes. These data highlight the importance of tailored prevention measures to further reduce fatal child poisonings.”

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Opioid Epidemic Worsening

The findings come as many communities continue to battle the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic. Among adults, opioids now account for more than 70% of drug overdose deaths, with overdoses involving fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, accounting for many in recent years.

The FDA recently warned the opioid crisis is a national public health emergency. Overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, increased more than 1,000% in recent years.

While fatal drug overdoses among children involving opioids has increased, non-fatal drug overdoses are also on the rise among America’s youth and the coronavirus pandemic has served to only worsen the opioid epidemic in the country among both adults and children.


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