PHILADELPHIA, PA — The opioid epidemic is not only affecting those who experiment with drugs, but also children who unknowingly ingest opioids. A new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics this week reveals that opioids account for nearly half of all deadly poisonings in children under five between 2005 and 2018. In comparison, over-the-counter pain, cold and allergy medications contributed to just under 15% of deaths.
Although fatal poisonings among children have decreased overall since the implementation of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in 1970, which mandates child-resistant packaging for potentially hazardous substances like aspirin or mouthwash, opioids are increasingly responsible for poisoning deaths. In 2005, opioids accounted for 24% of the substances that killed children, but by 2018, this number had risen to 52%.
One possible explanation for the rise in opioid poisoning deaths among children is the prevalence of illegal drugs like fentanyl. These drugs, which are much stronger than morphine and can be lethal even in small doses, are not packaged in child-resistant containers, making them more accessible to young children.
The trend in opioid poisoning deaths among children is consistent with the increase in overdose-related deaths among adults. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that drug overdose deaths have increased five-fold since 1999.
As far as the new research, infants under one year old accounted for over two-fifths of the children who died. More than 65% of these fatal poisonings occurred in the home, and nearly a third of the children were being supervised by someone who was not their biological parent. Among the documented cases, more than 40% of the poisoning deaths were accidental overdoses, while just under 18% were considered deliberate poisonings.
This news comes the same week as multiple news agencies, including USA Today, reported that a family of a one-year-old, who died after being exposed to fentanyl, has sued Airbnb, alleging that the child’s exposure happened at a rental property in Florida.