The opioid crisis in the United States has claimed the lives of almost 9,000 children from 1999 to 2016, researchers from Yale University have found.
The number of deaths has grown threefold in the course of 18 years, suggesting that the problem will likely continue unless legislators and public health officials can interfere and keep the drugs away from the hands of children.
The alarming report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Accidental Deaths Due To Opioid Poisoning
The researchers analyzed the Multiple Cause of Death file from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the deaths caused by poisoning from both prescription and illicit opioids from Jan. 1, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2016. They found that majority of the deaths, around 80 percent, were unintentional. Young children and teens have died after accidentally ingesting the drug.
Meanwhile, about 5 percent of the deaths associated with opioid were due to suicide. Teens died after they had overdosed from ingesting their parents' prescription painkillers or from narcotics illegally purchased on the street.
About 2 percent of the deaths were from homicide. Nearly a quarter of the cases involving children under the age of 5 were victims of homicide. About 35 percent of that number involved children younger than 1.
From 2014 to 2016, synthetic opioids was the leading cause of deaths among older teens. Heroin, a synthetic opioid, accounted for 24 percent of the deaths of teens between the age of 15 and 19.
Saving The Youth From The Opioid Problem
Although doctors have started to change their prescription habits, Julie Gaither, an instructor at Yale School of Medicine and the lead author of the research, warned that the number of deaths associated with opioids continues to increase because more teens are getting hooked to heroin and fentanyl. Older teens are most at risk of dying from opioids, accounting for 88 percent of the total number of deaths during the research period.
"These deaths don't reach the magnitude of adult deaths from opioids, but they follow a similar pattern," Gainer stated. "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."
Marc Fishman, an addiction psychiatrist and professor from John Hopkins University, added to USA Today that young people are also less likely to seek treatment compared to adults. He warned that this might make tracking the problem a lot more challenging.
Gainer proposed that extra safety measures should be carried out in order to keep the drugs away from the hands of children. The researcher said that childproof packaging of prescription narcotics like Suboxone could prevent deaths.
Parents should also make sure to dispose unused pills properly and to lock prescription drugs in places where children could not accidentally get into them.