Fentanyl Is Main Agent in Fatal Pediatric Opioid Poisoning

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Five percent of deaths from opioids in 1999 were from fentanyl compared with 94.0% of opioid deaths by 2021.

HealthDay News — Fentanyl is the main agent implicated in fatal pediatric opioid poisonings, according to a study published online May 8 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Julie R. Gaither, PhD, MPH, RN, from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, conducted a cross-sectional study to identify opioid deaths between Jan. 1, 1999, and Dec. 31, 2021, among individuals younger than 20 years.

Gaither found that fentanyl was implicated in 37.5% of fatal pediatric opioid poisonings between 1999 and 2021. Most deaths occurred among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years and children aged 0 to 4 years (89.6 and 6.6%, respectively). Overall, 43.8% of deaths occurred at home; most (87.5%) were unintentional. In 17.1% of deaths, coingestion of benzodiazepines was implicated. Approximately 5% of the 175 deaths from opioids in 1999 were from fentanyl, compared with 94.0% of 1657 opioid deaths by 2021. The mortality rate per 100,000 increased 3,740.0% between 2013 and 2021, from 0.05 to 1.92. Between 2018 and 2021, the mortality rate increased 289.8% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years (from 1.67 to 6.51) and 590.0% for children aged 0 to 4 years (from 0.10 to 0.69).

“Commonsense solutions (e.g., safe storage and disposal) are still needed to prevent pediatric exposures to opioids, but a greater emphasis on harm reduction strategies is necessary, including parental and adolescent treatment for opioid use disorder and improving access to naloxone in homes, which is where most pediatric deaths from fentanyl occur,” Gaither writes.

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