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Number Of Kids And Teens Affected By Opioid Crisis Growing

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More and more American kids are getting admitted to the intensive care unit due to prescription painkiller or other opioid overdoses, a new study states.

Researchers found that from 2004 to 2015, the number of kids and teens entering a pediatric intensive care unit due to a drug overdose has doubled, UPI reports. This includes adolescents who have opioid abuse problems and children who accidentally took such drugs.

Jason Kane of the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, lead researcher on the study, said,

These admissions are entirely preventable. These kids shouldn’t be there.

The study took the most recent look at the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States.

Government estimates state that around 2.4 million Americans have some sort of opioid use disorder, including prescription painkiller abuse (Vicodin or OxyContin), and illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine.

The focus of drugs is usually adults, but children are now “the second wave of victims,” Kane said. The researchers examined pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, where the most serious overdose cases are documented first. Some of the children were admitted because of respiratory problems and ended up needing ventilators, while others needed medicines to increase their blood pressures from perilously low levels, Kane added.

Between 2004 and 2015, over 3,600 kids and teens were admitted to 31 children’s hospitals in the US for an opioid overdose; 43% of these patients had to be placed in the ICU.

In contrast, only 12% of children hospitalized for other reasons other than opioids had to be sent to the ICU. More alarmingly, close to 2% of the children who overdosed died.

Kane said this highlights another tragic effect of America’s opioid crisis, “Almost 2 percent of these kids died of a completely preventable illness.” It’s also a drain on health care resources. “There are only about 4,000 pediatric ICU beds nationwide,” Kane said.

Sheryl Ryan, chief of adolescent medicine at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, wrote an accompanying editorial to the study. She said that parents need to practice more caution regarding their use of opioids. “I think parents often underestimate the power of communicating their values to their kids. But it’s so important.”

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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