Poison centers received a call every 45 minutes about kids exposed to prescription opioids

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As many as 188,000 calls were placed to the US Poison Control Centers for pediatric exposure to opioids over the course of 15 years from January 2000 through December 2015, a new study has revealed.

The volume of calls mean that a single call was placed ever 45 minutes with an average of 32 calls per day prompting scientists to call for changes to prescribing practices and increased education about safe storage at home.

Researchers at Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital published findings of their study in Pediatrics wherein they point out that while there has been a decline in the number and rate of exposures to most opioids since 2009 there is one notable exception – buprenorphine. Authors of the study note that pediatric buprenorphine exposures continue to climb, which is concerning given that almost half (47 per cent) result in admission to a health care facility.

Scientists are urging physicians to find a balance between making sure that they are helping their patients manage their pain, and making sure that they don’t prescribe opioids more or stronger than required by their patients. Authors also point out that while there has been a decline in overall rate of exposure to opioids among children, the exposure levels are still high and there is a need to examine prescription practices and to increase education to parents about safe ways to store these medications at home and to keep them out of reach of children.

Overall, most of the exposures occurred among children younger than five years of age (60 per cent) followed by teenagers (30 per cent). The medications leading to the most calls were hydrocodone (29 per cent), oxycodone (18 per cent), and codeine (17 per cent). The reason for and the severity of the exposure varied by age.

Among younger children (0-5 years), most opioid exposures occurred at home and were managed there without serious medical outcome. Most were unintentional non-therapeutic exposures likely caused by exploratory behaviors.

Among teenagers, on the other hand, more than two-thirds of the exposures were intentional. Of particular concern was the more than 50% increase in the rate of prescription opioid-related suspected suicides among teenagers during the 16-year study period. Teens also had greater odds of being admitted to a health care facility and experiencing serious outcomes than younger children. Parents need to be aware of these trends among teens, given that 70 percent of teenagers that use prescription medication without a physician’s order get them from friends or family.