The number of young children in the US who have died from opioid overdoses has risen significantly, according to a new study of accidental poisonings of children five years of age and younger.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed a national database and found 731 children under the age of five among poisoning-related deaths between 2005 and 2018. Some of the children were poisoned by over-the-counter medicines for pain, cold and allergy, but the highest number of fatal poisonings were due to opioids.
The trend worsened over time. In 2005, opioids accounted for 24.1% (7 of 29) of the substances that contributed to child deaths, compared to 52.2% (24 of 46) in 2018.
“It’s really surprising to see, looking at these data, how different the ratios were between 2005 and 2018,” said study co-author Dr. Christopher Gaw, an associate fellow at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia whose research focuses primarily on pediatric injuries and poisoning.
The number of fatal poisonings in this age group had declined since the Poison Prevention Container Act was passed in 1970, when child-resistant containers that were more difficult to open became the norm for many medications, as other studies have shown.