Yale study: Opioid poisonings in young children have doubled

NEW HAVEN >> Children are being hospitalized for opioid overdoses at double the rate they were in the 1990s, according to a Yale University study.

The researchers examined 13,000 discharge records from 1997 to 2012 and found that young children were at high risk because of accidental overdoses. They also found a high number of opioid poisonings among teenagers between 15 and 19, although the rate declined 7 percent between 2009 and 2012, according to a Yale press release. The older teens’ poisonings were mostly the result of suicide attempts.

Opioid use has grown exponentially in recent years, as more doctors have prescribed oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl to relieve pain, and this increase has resulted in a rise in hospitalizations.

Researchers looked at discharge records from the national Kids’ Inpatient Database for patients aged one to 19, the release stated. They found 13,000 discharges of patients who came to the hospital with opioid poisoning.

“Over 16 years, poisonings from prescription opioids in children and teens increased nearly twofold,” first author Julie Gaither, a post-doctoral fellow in the Yale School of Medicine, said in the release. “Those most vulnerable to opioid exposure were children ages 1 to 4 and 15 to 19. In toddlers and preschoolers, rates more than doubled over time.

“The take-home message is that prescription opioid poisonings are likely to remain a growing problem among children unless greater attention is directed toward the pediatric community,” Gaither said in the release.

The study’s authors recommended changing the packaging and storage of prescription opioid medications, parent education, examining guidelines for prescribing opioids to children and developing programs to prevent misuse among teenagers, the release said.

The study was published Oct. 31 in JAMA Pediatrics.