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Youth opioid poisonings have nearly tripled in the past two decades

A new study finds that the highest risk is among older teens

Photo (c) Comstock Images - Getty Images
Opioid overdose death rates among children and adolescents in the U.S. have risen dramatically in the past two decades, according to a study published Friday in JAMA.

Between 1999 and 2016, nearly 9,000 youth died of opioid poisoning, either from accidental ingestion, from intentional poisoning, or from using their parents’ prescription painkillers.

"What began more than two decades ago as a public health problem primarily among young and middle-aged white males is now an epidemic of prescription and illicit opioid abuse that is taking a toll on all segments of US society, including the pediatric population," the researchers wrote.

"Millions of children and adolescents are now routinely exposed in their homes, schools and communities to these potent and addictive drugs."

Most overdoses unintentional

For the study, researchers looked at data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between the time frame of 1999 through 2016. During that 18-year period, 8,986 children and teens died from opioid poisonings.

Of that number, about 73 percent of those who died were male and about 88 percent were adolescents ranging in age from 15 to 19. Nearly 7 percent of deaths were among children under five.

The deaths were attributable to either prescription or illicit opioids, and about 40 percent of the deaths occured at home, the researchers found. Most of the deaths (nearly 81 percent) were unintentional.

There was a slight dip in the number of opioid deaths in 2008 and 2009 due to doctors changing their prescribing habits, lead researcher Julie Gaither noted. However, opioid deaths are climbing again as more teens are using heroin and fentanyl.

The CDC recently reported that there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017. Opioids were involved in 67.8 percent of those cases.

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