Opioid poisonings and overdoses are sending increasing numbers of US children and teens to the hospital, according to a study showing a substantial rise in young patients needing critical care. The study, published Monday in Pediatrics, included accidental poisonings along with overdoses from intentional use, per the AP. Prescription painkillers were most commonly involved, but heroin, methadone, and other opioid drugs also were used. Hospitalizations were most common among kids ages 1 to 5 and 12 to 17. The youngest kids typically found parents' medications or illicit drugs and used them out of curiosity, says Dr. Jason Kane, the lead author and pediatrics professor at the University of Chicago and Comer Children's Hospital. Reasons for the increases are unclear, but it could be that drugs became more widely available and potent during the study years.
The study involved about 20% of US children's hospitals (31 in total). Opioid-related stays increased from almost 800 to 1,500 during the study, echoing research published last year that found the annual rate of hospitalizations for opioid poisonings in kids nearly doubled from 1997 to 2012. The new study found a similar increase in patients requiring intensive treatment, rising from 367 to 643 in the final years. A small fraction of the nearly 4.2 million hospitalizations of kids during the study involved opioids, but 43% of these opioid-related stays required intensive treatment. Nearly 20% of kids under 6 were hospitalized after swallowing methadone, used to fight addiction. "These kids are really the secondary victims of this adult opioid epidemic," Kane says, adding that the results emphasize how crucial it is to store medications and other drugs out of kids' reach.