Opioid Abuse: Now A True Public Health Concern Within The US Pediatric Population

Opioid Abuse: Now A True Public Health Concern Within The US Pediatric Population

Opioid Abuse: Now A True Public Health Concern Within The US Pediatric Population


The use of opioids dates back to more than 2,300 years ago. Within the last twenty years, however, there have been significant increases in the number of prescriptions written for the drug.1 While there are many appropriate medical uses for opioid drugs, the increase in medical usage has been followed by an increase in cases of opioid abuse, addiction, and fatalities related to opioid toxicity.1,2


Adults are not the only ones affected by the recent opioid crisis. In fact, addiction researchers are now suggesting that the number of children and rsonm1adolescents who are hospitalized due to an opioid overdose has more than doubled over the last 16 years.


In a study, recently published in JAMA, scientists conducted a retrospective analysis of hospital discharge records between the years of 1997 and 2012 from patients 1 to 19 years of age, who had been hospitalized due to a suspected opioid poisoning.3 For adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19, poisonings that were likely due to heroin were also identified.


Findings from this retrospective study revealed that, in 2012, 3.71 out of every 100,000 children aged 19 years and younger had been hospitalized for a primary opioid overdose. This was compared to the hospitalization rates in 1997, which revealed that 1.4 of every 100,000 children age 19 years and younger had been hospitalized for a primary opioid poisoning.3


The findings from adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years were even more staggering. In this sample, hospitalization rates were 10.17 per 100,000 in 2012, compared to 3.69 per 100,000 in 1997. Nonetheless, the greatest spike in hospitalization rates due to opioid toxicity were found among children below the age of four. In this group, the rate of hospitalization was 2.62 per 100,000 in 2012, which was up from 0.86 per 100,000 in 1997.3




The reasons behind pediatric abuse and misuse of opioid drugs is multifactorial.4 Among very young children, it is more likely that the child accidentally swallows their parent’s medication; however, among older children and adolescents, researchers suggest that opioid overdoses are more likely due to an underlying drug abuse problem or a suicide attempt.

rsonm2While this study has many limitations, it highlights a major epidemic in the US that needs to be addressed. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, more individuals died from drug overdoses than in any other year on record. Moreover, of these deaths, more than 6 in every 10 were found to be related to an opioid.5


Many suggest that opioid abuse will continue to be a persistent problem for our nation’s youth and it is believed that more prevention programs may be the best shot at helping our at-risk teens.




1 Gugelmann HM, Nelson LS. The prescription opioid epidemic: Repercussions on pediatric emergency medicine. Clin Pediatr Emerg Med. 2012;13(4):260-268.

2 Jones CM, Mack KA, Paulozzi LJ. Pharmaceutical overdose deaths, United States, 2010. JAMA. 2013;309(7):657-659.

3 Gaither JR, Leventhal JM, Ryan SA. National Trends in Hospitalizations for Opioid Poisonings Among Children and Adolescents, 1997 to 2012. JAMA. 2016;Epub ahead of print.

4 Compton WM, Volkow ND. Major increases in opioid analgesic abuse in the United States: Concerns and strategies. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2006;81(2):103-107.

5 Rudd RA, Aleshire N, Zibbell JE, Gladden RM. Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths – United States, 2000-2014. MMWR. 2016;64(50):1378-82.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.