The opioid epidemic is hitting teenagers and young adults particularly hard, sending more to emergency departments, according to a report presented at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics national conference. The revelation is just another blow to the growing opioid crisis in the U.S., a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is growing in epidemic proportions.
Opioids are powerful painkillers that include prescription drugs such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine, as well as the street drug heroin. The drugs have killed more than 33,000 people in 2015 – more than any other year prior. Nearly half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. The CDC issued new guidelines to doctors recommending they prescribe opioids only when absolutely necessary. This is especially important when it comes to pediatric patients.
To determine whether the crisis was affecting young people, researchers identified 32,235 children and young adults younger than 21 who were diagnosed with opioid dependency while at an emergency department during 2008. By 2013, that number had jumped to 49,626. Researchers say the study shows only the tip of the iceberg, and that stats are likely underestimated because researchers only looked at the kids who came into the ER.
“We know that opioid crisis is a major problem for the adults in the United States. And now for the first time, we have shown that this problem also exists in the pediatric age group,” said Dr. Veerajalandhar Allareddy, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “In our opinion, this is a pediatric public health crisis.”