New study shows how vulnerable children are to opioid epidemic

A new study shows U.S. poison control centers receive more than 30 calls each day (or one call every 45 minutes) about children exposed to prescription opioids. (Photo courtesy: Nationwide Children's Hospital)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - The opioid epidemic is front and center in Ohio and across the country, but a new study by Nationwide Children's Hospital shows how vulnerable children are to the epidemic.

From 2005 to 2015, researchers analyzed calls to poison control centers. In that time, researchers say the number of opioid exposures to children went up by 86%. After 2009, that number went down 32%, but researchers say they did see a significant increase in children being exposed to buprenorphine. According to Marcel Casavant, MD, Medical Director of of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “This is a type of opioid medication that is primarily used to treat people for addiction to heroin and other opioids. Calls to poison control centers regarding buprenorphine continue to climb."

Researchers also found that children younger than six-years-old account for 90% of the exposure to buprenorphine, more than half of those children were admitted to a healthcare facility. “Prescription opioids are especially dangerous to young children,” said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “These medications can have profound effects on the brain, cause coma, stop breathing, and, unfortunately in some cases, be fatal.”

Experts are now calling for more prevention efforts to protect children, one of those is better packaging. “Instead of loose pills in a bottle, we should be dispensing opioid prescriptions more often in blister packs or what are known as unit dose packages,” said Smith. “We’ve used that strategy with great success with other powerful medications, and we should be using it more often with prescription opioids as well.”

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