Every 45 Minutes, Poison Control Centers Call About Child Exposure to Opioids

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A vial of Naloxone and syringe are pictured at a Naloxone training class at the Hillview Community Center in Louisville, Kentucky, November 21, 2015. John Sommers II/Reuters

During a 16-year period, poison control centers in the U.S. received one call every 45 minutes about children exposed to opioid medication, according to a new study, a startling new statistic that illustrates just how far-reaching the country’s latest drug crisis has become.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study said there were 188,468 calls to poison control centers about children under 20 being exposed to prescription opioids between January 2000 and December 2015. In addition, there was a more than 50 percent increase in suspected prescription opioid-related suicides among teenagers during those 16 years, and teens were more likely that children ages 5 and younger to be admitted to a health care facility due to opioid exposure. (Sixty percent of children exposed to opioids were under 5 during the study period.)

Related: Deadly Drug Fentanyl Spikes Opioid Epidemic

The study also found that the number and rate of exposures to opioids fell after 2009, although exposure to the opioid buprenorphine actually increased during the last three years of the study. Overall, the opioid hydrocodone was responsible for the largest proportion of exposures.  

The study does not explain why there was a decrease in the number of calls after 2009, or which states had the largest number of calls. In 2015, deaths from heroin overdoses surpassed deaths from guns for the first time, and the number of deaths from opioid overdoses totaled more than 30,000 for that year alone. West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and Rhode Island had the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The journal’s authors say their findings “indicate that additional prevention efforts are needed.”