US sees 205% surge in opioid poisoning among toddlers since 1997

From 1997 to 2012, the number of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning surged dramatically, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

While the opioid epidemic is a hot-button issue, little data exists on how the public health crisis affects children. To better understand the relationship between America's opioid abuse problem and child health, researchers examined 13,052 health records of children aged one to 19 years hospitalized for opioid poisoning between 1997 and 2012.

Effects of opioid poisoning range from minor adverse effects such as constipation to death from respiratory depression.

Overall, this population experienced a 165 percent increase in opioid poisonings over this time period. While older adolescents demonstrated the highest poisoning rates, the amount of children ages one to four hospitalized for opioid poisoning saw a 205 percent spike, representing the largest increase out of all the age groups.

Researchers also found more evidence to suggest many individuals who abuse opioid painkillers eventually graduate to heroin. From 1997 to 2012, rates of adolescents 15 to 19 years old overdosing on heroin grew by 161 percent.

"What I hope is that people realize the opioid crisis affects everyone," said the study's lead author Julie Gaither, PhD, RN, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., according to TIME magazine. "Children make up a quarter of the U.S. population, and we need to pay better attention to them when it comes to the opiates by limited their exposure to them ... A lot of the solutions and interventions needed to address the opioid crisis are complex. But limiting exposure for children doesn't have to be. We need to realize the opioid crisis is affecting us all, throughout the lifespan, from neonates through the elderly."

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