SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – For years, the opioid epidemic has been focused on how addiction affects adults, but a new study reveals its effects on children.
According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, a child is poisoned by opioids every 45 minutes. Researchers found that poison control centers across the country got more than 190,000 calls for children exposed to opioids from 2000 to 2015.
Babies through five-year-old children ingested the pills because they were left within reach: in nearby purses, on counter tops, or on tables. Most older children (ages 6-12) who were affected were accidentally prescribed too many painkillers.
Baystate Pediatrician Dr. John O’Reilly told 22News that doctors now have to ask parents whether there are opioids in the home, just as they’ve always asked parents where they store their cleaning supplies. “The other thing that we’re doing is sort of saying: ‘Let’s try the alternatives. Let’s do some Tylenol and some Naprosyn, and different modalities to decrease the pain so we don’t have to reach that level,’” O’Reilly said. He added that children who are prescribed opioids are at a greater risk of addiction. He said early warning signs of a baby or child accidentally taking an opioid are lethargy and impaired cognitive functioning.
Unlike babies and children, the study found teenagers were taking the opioids on purpose. While some were experimenting with the drugs at parties, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of teenagers using opioids to attempt suicide.
Dr. O’Reilly said painkillers should be locked in a hard-to-reach cabinet. Researchers suggested prescribing them to adults in blister packets, which are more difficult for children to open.
One man, Richard Morrissey of West Springfield, told 22News that if patients received fewer pills in a prescription, there wouldn’t be any leftovers in the home in the first place. Morrissey said, “You don’t need a 30 day and the patient should be able to say, ‘Give me one or two days, I don’t want seven. I don’t want ten days.'”
Dr. O’Reilly said another concern nowadays is the drug buprenorphine. He said it’s a drug used to reverse the effects of addiction for opioid addicts. But, he said teenagers are now taking this drug, and if they’re not addicts, the effects are severe.
Researchers say as the opioid epidemic worsens across the country, this data is proof it’s having a trickle down effect on younger generations.
You can read more about this study here.