New study shows opioid epidemic is putting kids at risk

Posted March 21, 2017

"Most opioid exposures occurred at a residence", the team added. "And children get respiratory depression where they decrease breathing or even stop breathing".

Another data point that stands out is the alarming level of exposure to buprenorphine, a "partial-agonist" opioid used to wean addicts off opiates.

"We really have a major problem in this country [with opioid abuse]", said Dr. Marcel Casavant, one of the researchers on the study.

A second study in the same issue of the journal found that when US teenagers abused prescription opioids, it was often after they'd been given a legitimate prescription. Instead, buprenorphine exposures increased from 2014 to 2015 after declining from 2011 to 2013.

Casavant said that many people coming out of addictions to opioids were often leading chaotic and disruptive lifestyles when they were actively using, so it might just be that people need to be much more careful about where they store their drugs, or use a lockbox to keep them out of the reach of children.

The findings, published March 20 in Pediatrics, offer the latest glimpse into the US prescription opioid epidemic.

Although buprenorphine, the main ingredient in opioid replacement medications such as Suboxone and Subutex, has helped countless addicts wean themselves off more deadly opioids, a new study has found that the medication is increasingly finding itself in the hands of children - with unsafe results. Hospitalizations for opioid poisoning are up 176 percent among people ages 15 to 19 years old.

Casavant is one of a relatively small number of doctors certified to prescribe the drug, which he said can be immensely helpful for an addict - or an infant born to a mother addicted to opiates - but the drug is extremely risky to someone who is not addicted to opiates.

In 2016, the FDA approved a buprenorphine treatment that patients could implant under their skin, which meted out small doses of the drug over a period of several months. "The biggest problem is the reservoir already out there sitting in the community", she says.

Pharmacies fill more than 650,000 prescriptions for opioids each day in the U.S. "Buprenorphine is nearly exclusively prescribed for adults, so exposures among children represent a failure to safeguard the medication". When black students did use opioids non-medically, it was usually for pain relief.

The fact that the incidents may be waning is "good news", researchers said.

"If opiates go down in part because of access, what's happening with heroin?" The biggest question, she says, is what medical and public health communities are doing right, especially since opioid overdose deaths among adults don't show the same declines.

"It's more hard to figure out what we've done to make something go down than what continues to perpetuate a problem", Gonzalez says. They reveal trends, but not the why or how of those trends. There has been consistent growth in the number of prescriptions written for opioids in the USA, rising from 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to 207 million in 2013, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.