U.S. children get exposed to opioids and most of them are younger than 5 years old, the most vulnerable age group to the potentially deadly effects of prescription medicines.

Figures from the National Poison Data System showed that of the nearly 190,000 reports of people under age 20 who have come in contact with prescription opioids between the years 2000 to 2015, 60 percent involved children 5 years old and below. Of these reported cases of opioid exposure, 96 percent occurred at home.

How Young Children Get Their Hands On Opioids

Central Ohio Poison Center medical director Marcel Casavant, who is co-author of the study that reported these data, said that children below 5 years old often come in contact with opioids through exploratory exposures. This happens when a young child sees a pill while crawling on the floor and eats it.

Casavant and colleagues found that most of the youngsters below age 5 who took opioids got their hands on the drugs that were stored within their sight. About 14 percent found medicine that were not stored appropriately and a little over 13 percent got the medicine from a woman's purse.

The study findings were published in the journal Pediatrics on March 20.

Serious Effects Of Opioids Exposure In Young Children

The researchers raised concern over the exposure of very young children to opioids because bad things can happen when they get their hands on these drugs. Casavant said that the effects of opioid exposure could be serious and even fatal.

"Children getting sleepy, even to the point of coma and death. And children get respiratory depression where they decrease breathing or even stop breathing," Casavant said.

Keeping Children Away From Prescription Opioids

The researchers urged parents to adopt safety measures that can protect children from the dangers of prescription drugs, noting that whenever adults bring home these medications, the drugs can pose danger to the children who live there.

A simple but effective way of keeping children away from these medications and the potential dangers they pose is to store these drugs away and out of sight of the kids. The drugs should preferably get stored in a locked cabinet. Simple as it may seem, this safety practice is seldom observed in U.S. homes where adults use opioids.

In a February 2017 study involving 681 adults who use opioid pain relievers and who have children living with them, researchers found that only 31 percent safely store prescription drugs away from their children. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed do not store their prescription opioid medications safely.

"Our work shines a light on the pervasiveness of unsafely stored opioids in American homes with children," said study researcher Eileen McDonald from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. "Unsafely stored opioids can contribute to accidental ingestions among younger children and pilfering by older children, especially high school students."

Researchers said that parents need to be educated about risks related to opioids exposure and how easily kids can access these drugs if these are not stored under lock and key.

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