The amount of painkillers being prescribed by doctors is being reflected in the ease at which children can get their hands on them.
The opioid epidemic is largely thought of as an adult problem but a new study has found the number of toddlers and young teens who fall victim to prescription drugs has risen to a shocking number.
A team from Yale University led by Julie Gaither studied 13,052 hospital records of children aged 1 to 19 years who had been sent to hospital for opioid poisoning between 1997 and 2012. It showed a 165 percent increase in this time and even more shocking was a 205 percent increase in poisoning amongst children aged 1 to 4 years.
The problem lies with the ease at which so many American households now have prescription painkillers. It is thought there have now been enough prescribed to allow every home to have one bottle in their cabinet. Of course, many people have too many leftover bottles lying around that make it easy for toddlers and young teens to get their hands on.
“What I hope is that people realize the opioid crisis affects everyone,” says Gaither. “Children make up a quarter of the U.S. population, and we need to pay better attention to them when it comes to the opiates by limiting their exposure to them. A lot of the solutions and interventions needed to address the opioid crisis are complex. But limiting exposure for children doesn’t have to be. We need to realize the opioid crisis is affecting us all, throughout the lifespan, from neonates through the elderly.”
For toddlers, it’s simply getting their hands on the drugs lying around but for teens, where mental illness is a real and vulnerable issue, suicide and self-medication for depression is thought to be a leading cause for the increase. In 2012, 10.17 per 100,000 teenagers were hospitalized for opioid poisoning.
“We’ve got to pay attention to children and the toll the opioid crisis is taking on them,” Gaither says. “Kids make up about a fourth of the U.S. population, and they’re suffering from this crisis, too.”
Details of the study were published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.