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Study Sheds Light On Opioid Use Among Children

21 March 2017

The calls involved children all the way from the earliest years of life through the teenage years, and the causes for their exposure varied according to age. "Of particular concern was the more than 50 percent increase in the rate of prescription opioid-related suspected suicides among teenagers during the 16-year study period", the release states.

Researchers concluded that due to this correlation between prescription and non-prescription opioid use in adolescents, health professionals who prescribe opioids to adolescents should be concerned, but that more research is needed to examine the associations between medical use of prescription opioids, non-medical use, and opioid use disorders over the lifespan.

Through much of the study period, the problem grew steadily worse: From 2000 to 2009, the rate of incidents per 100,000 US children climbed 80 percent.

Researchers said they believe prescription opioids should be packaged "more frequently in blister packs or single-dose packaging instead of having the entire prescription filled as loose pills in one prescription bottle".

Research showed that the majority of exposures (60 percent) occurred in children younger than five years old - many of whom were hospitalized.

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Despite the downward trend, the number of opioid exposures among teens was still higher in 2015 than in 2000, Casavant said. "That safety measure does not apply to kids, and we may forget to mention that", Casavant says.

There was also an increase in calls related to one drug, called buprenorphine.

The downturn may also mean people are switching to street drugs like heroin, as opioids become increasingly more hard to get, he cautioned. Medications such as Suboxone, which is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid blocker, are often sold as dissolvable strips or sublingual tablets which take more than a few minutes to fully enter a user's system.

Dr. David Rosen is a professor of anesthesia and pediatrics at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

Acupuncture might be an option in a city, for people with the money to pay for it, Rosen said. Additionally, the study found pediatric exposure to hydrocodone led to the most calls (29 percent), followed by oxycodone (18 percent) and codeine (17 percent).

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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.

"Make sure you try every option before going to an opioid", Rosen said. For example physicians can prescribe the lowest effective dose of opoids, and supplement that with milder pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

For that reason, Casavant now tells patients to not only keep their medicines out of sight and out of reach, but contained in a locked cabinet. And any leftover pills should be promptly discarded, he added. "If it's lying around the house, it's available to everyone".

According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the nationwide sales of prescription opioids have quadrupled ever since the year 1999.

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Study Sheds Light On Opioid Use Among Children