The rate of toddlers who are hospitalized due to accidental opioid poisoning has jumped from 0.86 per 100,000 in 1997 to 2.62 per 100,000 in 2012, and the number of teens hospitalized for intentional opioid overdose has soared to 10.17 per 100,000 teenagers in 2012, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Overall, the rate of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning jumped 165 percent in the five years beginning in 1997 from 1.40 per 100,000 children to 3.71 per 100,000.
The findings call for need for public health initiatives that not only address overprescribing of opioids, but also raise awareness of the importance of safe storage for these powerful prescription painkillers, researchers say.
The study, conducted by Yale School of Public Health researchers, involved more than 13,000 hospital-discharge records for opioid poisonings and used census data collected by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Opioids have become a bane of society, with misuse and overuse numbers leading federal authorities to crack down on manufacturers of the powerful prescription drugs. Opioids, which include medications like morphine and oxycodone, alleviate pain by giving users a feeling of euphoria, creating a dependence that often leads to abuse.
Doctors have been urged by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to vastly limit their prescribing of the medications to situations in which no other therapies work.
Opioids also carry black box warnings for side effects including respiratory depression, which can be deadly. These dangerous side effects can be even more life threatening when these medications intended for adults are taken by children.
“We’ve got to pay attention to children and the toll the opioid crisis is taking on them,” said Julie Gaither, a the study’s lead author. “Kids make up about a fourth of the U.S. population, and they’re suffering from this crisis, too.”