The death rate among children and adolescents due to opioid overdoses nearly tripled from 1999 to 2016, according to a report published in the journal JAMA Network Open, an indication that the opioid epidemic is also affecting youth in America.
“What began more than two decades ago as a public health problem primarily among young and middle-aged white males is now an epidemic of prescription and illicit opioid abuse that is taking a toll on all segments of U.S. society,” the researchers wrote. “Millions of children and adolescents are now routinely exposed in their homes, schools and communities to these potent and addictive drugs.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdoses took the lives of more than 70,000 people in the U.S. last year. About 49,000 of those deaths involved opioids, a class of highly addictive painkillers that includes morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and heroin.
Of the near-9,000 opioid-related deaths among children and adolescents from 1999 to 2016, about 88 percent were adolescents ages 15 to 19. Prescription opioids were to blame for nearly three quarters of those overdose deaths, but heroin was named in about 24 percent of those cases. Nearly 81 percent were listed as unintentional, five percent were suicides, and 2.4 percent were homicides. Among infants, 35 percent of overdose deaths were listed as homicides.
Researchers say that more young people will die from opioid overdoses if lawmakers, public health officials, health care professionals and parents don’t realize the depth of the opioid crisis and “implement protective measures that are pediatric-specific and family-centered.”