Growing numbers of children and adolescents are ending up in the hospital for drug-related poisonings, as the use of prescription medications by adults to treat hypertension and other cardiac problems, diabetes, high cholesterol, and pain increases, according to an analysis published in the journal Pediatrics today.
Efforts to reduce the risk of accidental medication exposure among children, such as using child-proof packaging and educating patients about safe medication storage, have helped reduce drug-related poisoning deaths among children. But rates of drug poisonings among youth are high and continue to rise. Each year, more than 70000 children are seen in emergency departments for such poisonings and at least 12% of them are hospitalized.
To assess how trends in adult prescription medication use are affecting drug poisoning rates among children, a team of researchers analyzed data from 2000-2009 on child drug exposures and related health visits from the National Poison Data System and adult prescription drug information from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The researchers found that increasing numbers of adult prescriptions were associated with growing numbers of youth poisonings, especially among children between birth and 5 years of age.
The relationship between increasing adult prescription drug use and youth poisonings was particularly strong for opioid medications. Youth exposure to opioids was associated with higher proportions of serious injury (26.8%) and hospitalization (35.2%), as was exposure to hypoglycemics (19.5% and 49.4%, respectively). Hypoglycemic drugs, prescribed for patients with diabetes, and b-blockers, prescribed for patients with cardiac conditions, were associated with the highest rates of emergency department visits.
The authors conclude that renewed efforts are needed to protect children from exposure to adults’ prescription medications, with specific measures targeting age-specific risks. For example, very young children are often inadvertently exposed to drugs they encounter while exploring, but adolescents often intentionally consume medications to get high or to harm themselves.