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Opioid Overdose Among Children Nearly Doubles, DOJ Creates Task Force

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The opioid epidemic is negatively impacting children, and the rate of hospitalization, as well as admission for pediatric opioid poisoning, is increasing. Painkillers are the most common types of opioids.

A retrospective pediatric study conducted by the Pediatric Health Information System indicates that more children are landing in hospitals due to opioid ingestion and overdose for the period of 2004 to 2015.

Data incurred by the research shows that there were 3,647 opioid-related hospitalizations in 31 hospitals across the country. At least 42.9 percent of the hospitalized patients required admission to pediatric ICU while others were supported with mechanical ventilator and vasopressors.

Opioids Use Among Kids

Based on the study, the incidence of hospitalization for prescription-opioid poisoning among children and adolescents from 1 to 19 years of age increased nearly twofold from 1997 to 2012, with the largest percentage increase occurring among the youngest children ages 1 to 4.

Young children accidentally ingest opioids due to curiosity while adolescents and teenagers are more likely to have intentional ingestions, either for recreational purposes or for self-harm.

The researchers identified methadone ingestions, with nearly 20 percent of children below 6 years old being admitted with methadone ingestion.

"When they come in, they're going to fall into one of two categories: either they're teenagers with intentional or drug-seeking behavior because of recreational or self-injurious behavior, or they're kids who got into their parents' medication," says Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago and a lead author on the study.

Opioid Addiction

Prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine are powerful painkillers. Aside from reducing pain, these drugs may also trigger feelings of intense pleasure or being high. Prolonged use of opioids can lead to addiction, misuse, and abuse.

Opioid use disorder affects an estimate of 2.4 million Americans. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control describes OUD as a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress. Among the most commonly abused opioids include prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

Rates of opioid overdose deaths increased significantly from 7 per 100,000 in 2013 to 9 per 100,000 in 2014. The CDC has characterized all opioid pain reliever deaths as prescription opioid overdoses.

In 2016, an estimate of 64,000 Americans died due to a drug overdose, where a majority of the cases from opioid overdose. Nearly 166 people die each day due to opioids, prompting the United States Department of Health and Human Services to declare opioid addiction a public health emergency.

Task Force To Go After Manufacturers

Last Feb. 27, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of the Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force, to fight the prescription opioid crisis.

The PIL Task Force will aggressively deploy and coordinate all available criminal and civil law enforcement tools to reverse the tide of opioid overdoses in the United States, with a particular focus on opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Sessions have directed the PIL Task Force to establish a working group to improve coordination and data sharing across the federal government to better identify violations of law and patterns of fraud related to the opioid epidemic; evaluate possible changes to the regulatory regime governing opioid distribution; and recommend changes to laws.

"We will use criminal penalties. We will use civil penalties. We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws," said Sessions.

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