Nearly 9,000 children and teens have died from opioid poisonings since the epidemic began in the late 1990s, according to Yale epidemiologist Dr. Julie Gaither. An earlier Yale study found that about 30 kids a year died in hospitals, but this time her team analyzed data on deaths in all settings.
“Its approximately 500 children a year are dying,” she said. “Close to 60 percent are dying outside of any medical facility and nearly 40 percent are dying at home, which is very surprising.”
Younger children may be finding unused opioids around the house that have been prescribed to parents, grandparents, or teens. Drug use patterns of older teens mirror those of adults, said Gaither. Some have their own prescriptions. As restrictions have tightened on prescription opioids, others buy heroin and increasingly, illicitly manufactured fentanyl on the streets.
Gaither said physicians need to consider who else in a household may be at risk when they prescribe opioids.
“This is a systemic problem in this country and its affecting all age groups, all demographic groups, races,” she said. “The solutions that have been enacted to date have focused primarily on adults and on prescription opioids, and for the most part they’ve been insufficient.”
She said she thinks the problem is going to continue to grow for the young unless the nation starts to consider how children and teens have been impacted by the opioid crisis.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.