Startling rise in fentanyl-related child fatalities: Deaths increased more than 30 times between 2013 and 2021

Groundbreaking new research sheds light on the alarming impact of the fentanyl crisis on children across the United States. The new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that fentanyl was involved in 94% of the deadly pediatric opioid poisonings recorded in 2021, compared to 5% in 1999. More than 5,000 kids have died from overdoses involving fentanyl over the past two decades. Pediatric deaths from fentanyl began to increase substantially in 2013, coinciding with a rise in fentanyl deaths among adults. Shockingly, since 2013, pediatric deaths from fentanyl have increased more than 30 times.

The study’s author, Julie Gaither, Ph.D., MPH, RN at Yale School of Medicine, emphasizes that these deaths are preventable, and encourages parents and caregivers to keep Narcan or naloxone on hand, as these medications can save a child’s life. Naloxone is safe for children of all ages, and the FDA recently approved it to be sold over the counter. 

The research found most deaths were among older teens, happened at home, and were unintentional. However, there were 133 fentanyl deaths among children under the age of 5 in 2021 alone.

Dr. Gaither notes that no study to date has reported on national trends in fentanyl poisonings among children since the onset of the opioid epidemic nearly twenty-five years ago.