The number of young children who died from poisonings involving opioids more than doubled between 2005 and 2018, according to a study published last week in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers found that 52.2% of the fatal poisonings of children ages 5 and younger in 2018 involved opioids, a staggering increase from 24.1% in 2005.
These findings are yet another devastating indicator of the public health crisis caused by the opioid epidemic, which kills hundreds of Americans every day.
Making it easier for people with opioid use disorder (OUD) to get the help they need can help prevent fatal overdoses and related accidental deaths.
The Opioid Epidemic’s Toll
The last year that data was available for the fatal poisoning study was 2018, and the opioid epidemic only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, from 2019 to 2020 fatal overdoses increased by 31%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Of the 91,799 overdose deaths in 2020, nearly three-quarters (74.8%) involved opioid drugs, mainly the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The roots of the opioid crisis can be traced back to 1999 when doctors began prescribing opioid drugs more frequently because they weren’t aware of the addiction risk.
Time would tell that all opioid drugs, including prescriptions like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tramadol, are not only addictive but highly addictive.
The Ravages Of Addiction
Addictive drugs, including alcohol, artificially increase dopamine and serotonin levels. Both neurotransmitters produce pleasurable feelings that can affect the reward center of the brain.
With the increased use of the drug, the brain becomes less sensitive to dopamine, which may cause the person to take more frequent or higher doses to achieve the initial effects.
In part due to drugs’ effect on the brain, drug addiction is considered a mental health disorder that is treatable but not curable.
Many people living with addiction are unaware that they have the condition, which is one reason why SUDs often go untreated.
Signs of substance abuse include:
- compulsive drug-seeking behavior
- an inability to stop using the drug despite any negative consequences
- increasing the dose or frequency of use
- only feeling good when using the drug
- a loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- poor work or academic performance
There are also common signs and symptoms of drug abuse that pertain specifically to opioid drugs.
Opioids include natural opiates, like morphine and heroin, as well as synthetic opioids, such as prescription opioid drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin) and fentanyl.
Recent data shows that many people who develop a heroin addiction first misused a prescription opioid drug.
Due to the opioid epidemic, doctors nationwide are reducing the number of opioid prescriptions they write and pharmacies are working to track prescriptions better.
These are just a couple of the efforts being made to decrease the number of people addicted to opioids and the number of people dying from overdoses.
Signs of opioid addiction include:
- doctor shopping, where a person goes from doctor to
- doctor or pharmacy to pharmacy to obtain prescriptions
- an abundance of prescription pill bottles
- frequently experiencing common side effects from the drug, such as constipation and itchiness
People with an OUD are also more likely to experience an overdose.
Overdose And Accidental Poisoning
In many cases, overdoses are accidental. This is especially true when it comes to opioid overdoses, because they often involve fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is hard to detect.
Prescription fentanyl is used by doctors to treat severe pain, such as the pain caused by advanced-stage cancer, as fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Drug traffickers add fentanyl to other drugs to increase those drugs’ effects. The potency of fentanyl allows them to reduce the amount of real product and boosts profits.
They might add them to counterfeit pills made to look like Xanax or Vicodin but also to drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA).
These illicit drugs pose dangerous risks not only to the people who use them but also to infants and young children who may be exposed to them.
The study on the fatal poisonings of young children showed that almost 80% of poisonings that involved opioids happened at the child’s, a relative’s, or a friend’s home.
In 60.9% of cases, the substance had been left in an open area.
Treatment Options For Opioid Addiction
Government officials, medical professionals, and other caring adults are working to end the opioid epidemic.
Research shows that education and outreach efforts by teachers, parents, and healthcare providers are effective in reducing drug use and addiction.
When young people understand the risks associated with taking drugs, they are less likely to do so.
Opioid Overdose-Reversing Medications
Life-saving naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use to reverse an opioid overdose in people of all ages.
Doctors and pharmacists can show patients, family members, or caregivers how to administer naloxone, which is usually either sprayed into the nose or injected.
A government advisory committee recently unanimously recommended that the FDA make naloxone nasal spray available without a prescription.
The FDA reports no adverse side effects from naloxone. According to their research, administering naloxone is safe even if the person was not experiencing an overdose.
People living with an OUD can begin recovery at a detox center or rehab facility that offers evidence-based OUD treatment.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone helps normalize brain chemistry and body functions while reducing cravings.
MAT can help some people experiencing opioid addiction safely go through withdrawal and stay on the path to recovery.
Find Opioid Abuse Treatment Today
Call us today to learn about opioid addiction treatment options for you or a loved one, and get started on the path to recovery.
Published on March 22, 2023
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)