More U.S. Kids Landing in ER With Opioid Addiction

From - September 15, 2017

More U.S. Kids Landing in ER With Opioid Addiction

FRIDAY, Sept. 15, 2017 -- A growing number of children and teens are turning up in U.S. emergency departments dependent on opioids -- including prescription painkillers and heroin, a new study finds.

Researchers found that in 2013, nearly 50,000 ER patients aged 21 and younger were diagnosed with opioid dependence or addiction. That was up from just over 32,200 in 2008.

By that final year, roughly 135 kids were testing positive for opioid dependence each day in the nation's emergency departments, the researchers said.

Child health experts said the findings offer the latest glimpse into the national opioid epidemic -- and, specifically, its impact on kids.

"This is not just a problem for adults," said lead researcher Dr. Veerajalandhar Allareddy, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Stead Family Children's Hospital, in Iowa City.

"Kids are also at risk of opioid abuse, and it's an emerging public health issue," he said.

Allareddy is scheduled to present the findings Sept. 18 at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting, in Chicago.

One doctor who sees kids with opioid dependence said he was not surprised by the study results.

"I have no problem believing this," said Dr. Marcel Casavant, chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

"I can tell you this is real, based on my own practice," said Casavant, who was not involved in the study. "There are definitely more and younger children turning up [with opioid dependence]."

In a study published earlier this year, Casavant and his colleagues found one promising pattern: U.S. poison control centers are seeing fewer calls about children and teenagers who'd ingested prescription opioids -- either accidentally or intentionally.

But some other trends were ominous: Among teenagers, the rate of suspected suicide by opioid overdose rose by 53 percent between 2000 and 2015.

The new study focused on opioid dependence and addiction among young people, using emergency department records from a nationally representative sample of U.S. hospitals.

In 2008, there were 32,235 patients younger than 21 diagnosed with opioid dependence or addiction. By 2013, that had risen to 49,626, the findings showed.

The large majority of those ER visits -- 88 percent -- were made by 18- to 21-year-olds, while 16- and 17-year-olds accounted for over 8 percent. But there was a "handful" of cases among children younger than 12, Allareddy said.

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