Poison Control Centers receive calls every 45 minutes for child opioid exposure

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In the time it takes to finish this sentence, 53 more prescriptions for opioids were just filled in our country. The use and abuse of these drugs is being called an epidemic, and now we're learning this is all leading to an unexpected danger for young kids.

Think of opioids as super powerful painkillers. Pharmacies fill more than 650,000 prescriptions for opioids every day in this country. And, increasingly, calls are coming into the Poison Control Hotline because of them.

"In this setting, we found that Poison Control Centers receive a call every 45 minutes for a child that's been exposed to opioid medications," says Dr. Gary Smith with Nationwide Children's Hospital. That study was conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. It analyzed calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers between 2000 and 2015 and found a sharp increase related to opioid initially, but a drop since 2009. There was one notable exception, though.

"We saw a pretty significant increase among young children getting into medications that are used to treat opiate dependence. Buprenorphine, in particular, had a significant increase in exposures to young children," says Dr. Marcel Casavant from Nationwide Children's Hospital.

That's concerning because that drug is primarily used to help people addicted to heroin or other opiates, but can be really dangerous in the hands of children.

"When children get exposed to buprenorphine, if Mom or Dad sees it happening and they take the pill out of the child's mouth, that child can still go into a coma and stop breathing many hours later," Dr. Casavant says.

Experts are calling for increased prevention efforts to better protect children, including changes in how these pills are packaged. Instead of loose pills in bottles, blister packs or single-dose packaging are sought after.

"Keep these things up, away and out of sight, preferably in a locked location so they can't get access to them," says Dr. Smith.

While children younger than six accounted for the most exposures, teens are also at risk. The rate of suspected suicide due to prescription opioid exposure among teenagers rose nearly 53 percent over the 16-year study period.