Washington (AFP) – Hospitalizations for overdoses of more than doubled among US children and adolescents between 1997 and 2012, according to a new study published Monday.
Suicide attempts and accidental ingestion accounted for a growing number of the poisonings, said the authors of the report published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
They identified more than 13,000 cases of children and adolescents ranging from one to 19 years old hospitalized for overdoses of doctor-prescribed opiates, from which 176 died.
Among children aged one to four, hospitalizations increased by 205 percent, and 161 percent for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.
Young children were hospitalized mainly for ingesting the painkillers accidentally, while attempts at suicide or self-inflicted injury accounted for most overdoses among adolescents over the age of 15, said co-author Julie Gaither, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Medicine.
Overdoses among other teenagers probably resulted from attempts to get high.
The authors attribute the explosion in the number of overdoses from painkillers among young children to their parents or other adults in their households who provided access to the drugs.
In general, poisonings attributed to prescription drugs have become the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, they stress.
The rise is due mainly to the huge increase in the presence of the powerful painkillers in Americans’ homes.
Use of the drugs has skyrocketed in recent years, prompting the authorities to sound alarms over the sharp increase in overdoses and addiction.
Doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012.
The study also found that the vast majority of children and adolescents who overdosed on the drugs were white — 73.5 percent — and that almost half were covered by private medical insurance.
The proportion of young people from families receiving Medicaid — federal health insurance for lower-income Americans — hospitalized for opiate overdoses increased from 24 percent in 1997 to 44 percent in 2012, the study says.