Opioid-related deaths among teens and children have tripled since 1999
Although recent statistics and information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make the death toll from the ongoing opioid epidemic startlingly clear, data about the opioid crisis’s effect on younger people across America hasn’t been so easy to come by.
Now, a recent study indicates that opioid overdose rates among teens and children in America have more than tripled over the past two decades.
For younger children, opioid deaths were typically related to accidental ingestion or intentional poisoning, while teens were more likely to unintentionally overdose while using opioids recreationally.
In total, the team of researchers led by Julie Gaither at the Yale School of Medicine estimate that approximately 9,000 American youth have died from opioid use since 1999.
“These deaths don’t reach the magnitude of adult deaths from opioids, but they follow a similar pattern,” Gaither noted.
“As we consider how to contain this epidemic, parents, clinicians, and prescribers need to consider how children and adolescents are affected and how our families and communities are affected,” said the team in the online version of the journal JAMA Network Open.
Gaither and her team used data collected from CDC between 1999 and 2016. For the study, which included information about nearly 9,000 children and teens who died from poisonings including prescription or illicit opioids.
Based on the data, approximately 40% of the deaths happened at the youth’s home.
Interestingly, deaths decreased in both 2008 and 2009 due to changes in prescribing habits among doctors, according to Gaither. However, death rates then began to rise again as more teens and adults began using heroin and fentanyl.
Older teens were at the highest risk, accounting for 88% of opioid-related deaths in the study. Still, even children younger than 5 were not immune to the dangers of opioids.
Around 25% of deaths among young children (account for 148 deaths) were intentional murders.
Following the trends seen among adults, males were at the highest risk – particularly white males. However, other demographics including girls, African-Americans, and Latinos were closing the gap.
Gaither acknowledges that there have been recent efforts to stem the tide of the opioid crisis, but says not enough is being done to protect children from the effects of this epidemic.
Specifically, she recommends that more adopt childproof packaging for prescription narcotics – including those used to treat addiction like Suboxone. Gaither notes that many opioid-related deaths among children included the use of drugs like methadone, which is intended to reduce cravings among addicts.