Opioid poisonings, overdoses send more kids to hospitals

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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 majority of opioid-related hospitalizations were for older children ages 12 to 17, but one-third were for kids under age 6.

43 percent of the cases identified by the study's authors ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit, usually reserved for the most severe, life-threatening cases.

The number of children being hospitalized for opioid poisoning has nearly doubled over the past decade, according to a new study published Monday (March 5) in Pediatrics that looked at the number of pediatric hospitalizations for opioid ingestions across 31 children's hospitals in the U.S.

There was at least one positive trend reflected in the study-mortality for minors admitted for opioid overdoses has declined. Prescription painkillers were most commonly involved, but heroin, methadone and other opioid drugs also were used.

Opioid poisonings, overdoses send more kids to hospitals
Opioid poisonings, overdoses send more kids to hospitals

Kane, an associate pediatrics professor with the University of Chicago, said adult health providers need to do more to educate their patients about the potential dangers to children of having opioid medications in their home and the need to take the necessary safeguards.

The study included accidental poisonings along with overdoses from intentional use. So you sort of have to ask yourself: "where are they getting all this methadone from?" "What was really striking to me is just how sick these kids are and that nearly half of them end up in the ICU".

In severe cases, opioid overdose can lead to reduced and inadequate breathing, or even death, Daftary explained.

"We can also provide blood pressure support through medications, and that's because significant exposure to opioids can decrease your blood pressure by quite a bit, making it hard for your body to maintain supply of nutrients to important organs such as the kidney and the brain", he added. In addition, 37 percent of the young patients had to be put on mechanical ventilators and more than a fifth required medication to prevent cardiac arrest, the researchers found. The percentage of those children who died after admission decreased over that time period, from 2.8% a year to 1.3% a year. "Overall, I would agree with the findings of the study that we're probably getting better at taking care of these patients".

He added that the exploratory nature of young children makes them especially vulnerable to accidentally ingesting medication.

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