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Study: Opioids most common substances in fatal poisonings of young children

March 8, 2023

Opioids were involved in more fatal poisonings among young children in recent years than any other substance and have been growing in proportion, according to a new study.

“Our study highlights how the opioid epidemic has not spared our nation’s infants or young children,” author Christopher Gaw, M.D., M.B.E., FAAP, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), said in a video abstract for the study “Characteristics of Fatal Poisonings Among Infants and Young Children in the United States,” (Gaw CE, et al. Pediatrics. March 8, 2023).

Researchers from CHOP studied data on fatal poisonings among children under 6 years from 40 states in 2005-2018. State reporting was voluntary and may not be nationally representative. The data included 731 fatal poisonings and an average age of just over 1 year.

About 47% of the fatal poisonings involved opioids, while about 15% involved over-the-counter medications, according to the study. Opioids accounted for about 52% of the substances involved in fatal poisonings in 2018, up from 24% in 2005.

The data also showed about 41% of all fatal poisonings were accidental, 18% were deliberate and 41% were attributed to other causes like an adverse effect or medical mishap.

About 65% of fatal poisonings occurred in the child’s home. Among those with a documented supervisor, most were parents. However, authors noted about one-third were other individuals, highlighting the need to better educate all caregivers.

“Prevention of fatal pediatric poisonings requires a multifaceted approach involving caregiver education, as well as community-level interventions, particularly among communities facing socioeconomic disparities,” authors wrote.

That education should include counseling caregivers about proper use of over-the-counter medications, the availability of naloxone to counteract an opioid overdose and the importance of keeping potential poisons in their original containers in a locked storage area.

Authors called for clinicians to suspect opioid intoxication in children with depressed breathing or altered mental status.



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