The number of kids sent to pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) doubled between 2004 and 2015, a team at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital found.
"Current efforts to reduce adult opioid use have not curtailed the incidence of pediatric opioid ingestions, and additional efforts are needed to reduce preventable opioid exposure in children", the authors write.
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.
An estimated 2.4 million Americans have an opioid use disorder, according to federal estimates.
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. That includes abuse of prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.
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"The thing that was a bit striking is that in the youngest children, those under six years of age, 20% of the ingestions were of methadone. We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws", said Sessions.
Researchers believe numerous overdoses were likely caused by the child taking prescription medications after discovering them at home.
The findings also point to a drain on health care resources, he added. The reason why that's important to recognize is that nationwide there's only about 4,100 pediatric ICU beds, which is in contrast to the number of adult ICU beds, which is closer to 78,000. The CDC has characterized all opioid pain reliever deaths as prescription opioid overdoses.
While the opioid-related incidents were a relatively small percentage of the almost 4.2 million children's hospitalizations during the 11-year study, they reflected a 35 percent increase in pediatric intensive-care admissions for ingesting the drugs, according to the study. If they are expired or no longer being used, experts recommend taking them to a pharmacy or a facility that can appropriately dispose of them.
"I think parents often underestimate the power of communicating their values to their kids", she said.