Overall hospitalizations for prescription opioid poisonings in children and adolescents have more than doubled from 1997 to 2012, a new study in JAMA Pediatrics has shown, with a higher incidence of poisonings due to suicide or self-inflicted injury and accidental intent. 

The data is not clear on how many children and adolescents are hospitalized yearly for opioid poisonings and the change in rates over the years. Study authors from the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, explained that a better understanding of pediatric opioid-related illness and death is necessary because opioids are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the country. 

The research team, led by Julie R. Gaither, PhD, MPH, RN, analyzed pediatric hospital discharge records every 3 years between 1997–2012. Diagnosis codes were used to gather 13,502 discharge records for pediatric patients hospitalized for opioid poisonings. Also, they identified opioid poisonings due to heroin for patients aged 15–19. The authors found that during the study period, 1.3% (176 children) died during hospitalization. 

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Overall, between 1997–2012, the incidence of hospitalizations from opioid poisonings increased by 165% (1.40 to 3.71 per 100,000 children) among children aged 1–19 years and by 205% (0.86 to 2.62 per 100,000 children) among children aged 1–4 years. 

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Among teens aged 15–19, the incidence of hospitalization from opioid poisonings increased by 176% (3.69 to 10.17 per 100,000 children) with a 161% increase (0.96 to 2.51 per 100,000 children) seen in poisoning attributed to heroin and a 950% increase (0.10 to 1.05 per 100,000 children) in poisoning attributed to methadone. Dr. Gaither noted that most of the hospitalized children were white (73.5%) and covered by private insurance (48.8%). 

When evaluating the intent behind opioid poisonings, 16 involved suicide or self-inflicted injury among children aged <10 years. For those aged 10–14 years, the incidence of poisonings due to suicide or self-inflicted injury rose by 37% from 0.62 to 0.85 per 100,000 children. For those aged 15–19 years, opioid poisonings due to suicide or self-inflicted injury rose by 140% and for accidental intent, 303%.

Dr. Gaither concluded, “[In addition] further resources should be directed toward addressing opioid misuse and abuse during adolescence.” 

For more information visit JAMAmedia.org.