There has been a large increase in people using addiction treatment drugs to help them break their addiction to risky and illegal substances; these drugs are easier to control, don't produce a high, and allow individuals to function when long-term or severe use would make recovery difficult or impossible.
One unfortunate side effect of the increase in addiction treatment drugs is that there has also been a significant increase in children being exposed to these drugs. The number of children exposed to buprenorphine went up 215 percent in just three years. Experts are wondering why so many parents show carelessness in letting their children gain access to the drug, since most of the exposures were in young children and were unintentional.
Risks of Buprenorphine Exposure
Buprenorphine may be viewed as a harmless drug in comparison to the opioids it is replacing, but it is not harmless for young children or even teens who ingest it. It can cause depressed breathing, and it can poison children. Almost a quarter of the children under 6 who were exposed to the drug spent time in intensive care, and seven died. These figures highlight the dangers of the drug, which is an opioid even if it doesn't produce a high. Among teens exposed, 12 percent make a suicide attempt using it, many of them girls.
The authors of the study that showed the spike recommended more education about the dangers of buprenorphine for children, as well as childproof caps on pill bottles or unit dosing that would ditch the bottle altogether. Another option could be an implant that was approved for use in 2016, which would mean no pills for children to be exposed to.
The problem of children being exposed to addiction treatment medications will probably continue to plague medical professionals as the use of these medications in home settings continues to be more common. In solving the problems posed by needing to go to a clinic each day to get these medications, treatment professionals have inadvertently caused another problem by putting the drugs where children can more easily be exposed to them.
Furthermore, buprenorphine was approved as a treatment for adolescents who are abusing opioids, which will also increase the amount of these drugs in the pediatric population. Adolescents taking buprenorphine as part of their treatment regimen should be educated in its risks, including the risk of overdose when mixed with other substances including alcohol.
Mental health counseling and assessment in adolescents taking the drug may help to prevent suicide attempts by those taking the medication in both prescribed and unprescribed ways.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake uses medication-assisted treatment along with many other Colorado addiction treatment resources to help those struggling with opioid use recover in safe ways. Our trained staff is well aware of risks with any medication and can help you or a loved one make a plan to keep kids safe from any exposure to buprenorphine or other medications related to treatment. Contact us for more information.