Poison-control centers nationwide receive calls about children and teenagers exposed to opioid-prescription pain pills an average of 32 times a day, a new study shows.
That’s once every 45 minutes.
Centers received 188,468 such calls from 2000 through 2015, according to the study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The study is published today in the journal Pediatrics.
“There are a lot of children every day getting exposed to some very dangerous painkillers in our homes. It’s just an amazing number,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Marcel Casavant, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center and chief of toxicology at Nationwide.
The numbers, Casavant said, show that the opioid epidemic “that has been ravaging our adults and our teens has worked its way down to young people as well.”
Most of the exposures — 60 percent — were among children age 5 or younger. The second-highest percentage — 30 percent — was among those 13 to 19 years old.
Findings show that most of the exposures among the youngest children were unintentional and probably occurred when the youngsters found pills that were inappropriately stored, whether in sight or within reach in a purse.
Among those 13 to 19, many exposures were intentional, and researchers found a 52.7 increase in opioid-related suspected suicides among them in the period covered by the study.
Among children 6 to 12 years old, most exposures were because of errors administering prescribed medication.
Exposure can lead to a coma, stoppage of breathing or stoppage of the heart. In short, children can die from a single pill, Casavant said.
The study also found that 96 percent of exposures occurred at home; 175 children and teens died; and nearly 500 stopped breathing.
The findings show that adults must safely store prescription opioids and get rid of expired or unused tablets after an illness or injury, said Brad Lander, clinical director of addiction medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
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