Child Opioid Overdose Deaths Tripled Over 2 Decades

by Zeena Nackerdien

Approximately 9,000 youths died from opioid poisonings in recent years, study finds.

Opioids are rarely indicated in the long-term treatment of chronic nonmalignant pain in children, although the drugs may be beneficial in certain painful conditions with clearly defined etiologies, according to the American Pain Society (APS). The APS cited sickle cell disease, incurable degenerative joint, and neurodegenerative diseases as examples of such chronic conditions.

Nevertheless, based on one estimate, nearly 5,000 children <6 years old are evaluated each year in emergency departments for opioid exposures. From 1997 to 2012, hospitalizations for opioid poisonings rose almost twofold across all pediatric age groups. The largest proportion of hospitalizations over time occurred among toddlers and preschoolers, according to a 2016 study.

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