As the opioid crisis continues, an increasing number of children are harmed.
The number of American children dying from opioid poisoning has tripled in the last 18 years, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 9,000 children ages 0 to 19 lost their lives because of opioids between 1999 and 2016 in the United States, with almost 90 percent of those being in the 15 to 19-year-old age range.
Opioid Death Rate Triples for Ages 0-19
Many of these young victims of the opioid crisis are exposed to the drugs in their homes, with a family member or other household member using the substances and allowing the children to get their hands on these dangerous drugs. The study asserted that more research into how children come into contact with opioids needs to be done to determine the relationship between neglect or abuse and opioid exposure. While a small number of children may have been given opioids intentionally, most of the time the exposure appears to be accidental.
The study looked primarily at child deaths from opioid exposure, but it also noted that around 5,000 children are hospitalized for opioid poisoning each year, so the problem is more complex than opioid death rates. Accidental or intentional opioid exposure can have long-lasting impacts on children, even making them more prone to addiction as they grow older.
Determining that opioids are the cause of many pediatric deaths had been difficult previously, but the new study looked at multiple causes of death and analyzed existing records to show opioids as the cause. The study included both prescription opioids and illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl. While the opioid problem primarily affected white males 20 years ago, numbers of all affected racial and ethnic groups, as well as females, have risen rapidly in recent years.
Schools are now beginning to teach children about the dangers of opioids.
Helping Children Survive the Opioid Crisis
Solutions to childhood opioid exposure are not easy. Parents or other household members addicted to opioids may make poor decisions, like leaving substances in locations where they can be accessed by children. In addition, parents who model misuse of opioids give their children a powerful example of opioid misuse that many may choose to follow in their teens, which may be influencing some of the poisonings in the 15 to 19-year-old age group.
As more attention is given to opioid treatment, however, more children may become aware of the dangers of opioids and decide not to take them when they are exposed in the home or other locations. Even schools are beginning to include lessons about the dangers of opioids in their curricula, which could also help children make better decisions when opportunities arise and could prevent overdose deaths.
With the opioid crisis now bringing average lifespans down for the first time in generations, it is unlikely to be resolved quickly. The federal government has declared the opioid misuse across the country a crisis, and many state governments including Colorado have also undertaken initiatives to stem the tide of opioid misuse.