A Shocking Number Of Children Are Overdosing On Opioids, & Here's What Parents Should Know

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Of all the dangers parents worry about when it comes to their children, accidentally ingesting a lethal dose of their medication usually isn't high up on the list. Unfortunately, a new study found that a shocking number of children are overdosing on opioids. With overdoses on the rise, it is more important than ever for parents to ensure that they are properly storing and securing their medications.

The number of children being admitted to the hospital for opioid overdoses has almost doubled between 2004 and 2015, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers examined the hospital and pediatric intensive care unit records of children between the ages of 1 and 17 who were admitted with opioid-related diagnoses from 2004 to 2015, according to the News & Observer. The admissions nearly doubled from 797 patients between 2004 and 2007 to 1,504 patients between 2012 and 2015.

Older kids, from 12-17 years of age made up more than 60 percent of the patients admitted to the hospital for opioid overdose, according to CNN. Second to kids over 12, young children between 1 and 5, were admitted most often — making up one-third of the cases. Researchers involved in the study explained that many of the children likely took medications prescribed for their parents.

Lead researcher Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago explained that there are only two real reasons why kids show up in the hospital for opioid overdose: "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," according to MyNBCNews14. The surprising part of the results was the source of the overdoses, Kane said:

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. So you sort of have to ask yourself: where are they getting all this methadone from?

Kane told CNN that younger children in particular likely accidentally consumed medications that had been prescribed to their parents, such as methadone and oxycodone:

Children accidentally getting into medications is not a new phenomenon. But this is probably a reflection of the massive amount of drugs — opioid drugs — that are available to children in the community.
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The results of the study underline the need for safe and secure handling of medications and other drugs. A 2017 report from Safe Kids Worldwide found that, despite knowledge of the risks, nearly 70 percent of parents with children younger than 6 reported regularly storing medication within their children's view. Medications are safest when locked up and out of reach, according to HuffPost Canada.

Pamela Fuselli, vice president at the injury prevention charity Parachute Canada, told HuffPost Canada that parents should "place all medications in a locked box and put it in a place that is high up and out of your child's reach." Guests brought into your home should be asked to do the same, she said:

When visitors come to your home, make sure they keep their purses, bags, etc. out of your child's reach. Visitors may have unsafe and dangerous products with them. Keep their belongings out of your child's reach just as you do your own.

The Centers for Disease Control also recommends that parents teach their children about medicine safety early on. They should have a general understanding of what medicine is, including why only parents or other trusted adults can be the ones to give it to them. Another helpful tip from the CDC is to refrain from telling children that medicine is candy in an attempt to get them to take it; this could confuse them down the line and lead to them taking medicine they don't need or drugs that would harm them.

America's opioid crisis is made even more frightening by its impact on children. Fortunately, Kane explained to MyNBCNews that the majority of cases are preventable. With a little bit of education and a lot of diligence, parents can help ensure their children are safe.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.