Yale: Thousands of children are hospitalized annually for prescription opioid poisonings, and in recent years, hospitalization rates have nearly doubled among children of all ages, according to a new Yale study that shows toddlers and older teens are particularly at risk. These findings, based on a review of hospital discharge records over a 16-year period, show the impact of the prescription opioid crisis on children and the need for strategies to address it, said the researchers. The study was published Oct. 31 in JAMA Pediatrics. (View a video about the study from the JAMA Network.)
opioids include common painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and
fentanyl. In adults, the growing use and abuse of these drugs are linked
to a rise in hospitalizations for opioid poisonings. To gauge the
impact of these trends on children, the Yale team conducted a
comprehensive analysis of hospitalizations attributed to opioid
poisonings in children and adolescents.
First author Julie Gaither
and the Yale team analyzed data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database, a
national source that compiles data on children admitted to U.S.
hospitals. The researchers examined discharge records for patients aged 1
to 19 who were hospitalized for opioid poisonings. Using data from 1997
to 2012, they identified more than 13,000 such records.
researchers found that hospitalizations for opioid poisonings in
children rose significantly during the period studied, with the greatest
increases seen in the youngest kids and the oldest teens. “Over 16
years, poisonings from prescription opioids in children and teens
increased nearly twofold,” Gaither said. “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.”
that prescription opioid poisonings among children less than 10 years of
age were primarily of an accidental nature, but among older teens,
suicidal intent was the primary cause.
A silver lining in the data
is that hospitalizations among older teens did decrease slightly in the
most recent years. “For 15 to 19 year olds, we saw a slight decrease,
7%, in hospitalizations from 2009 to 2012,” said Gaither.
this decrease, “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,” she
The researchers described multiple strategies for
addressing the risks of opioid exposure in children, including changes
to the packaging and storage of prescription opioid medications. They
also discussed parent education, clinical practice guidelines for
prescribing opioid painkillers to children, and programs to prevent
opioid misuse among adolescents.
Other Yale authors include Dr. John M. Leventhal, Dr. Sheryl A. Ryan, and Dr. Deepa R. Camenga.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.