Adult prescription drug use linked to pediatric poisonings.
(Photo: Shane Bevel for USA TODAY)
More adults are taking prescriptions for chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure -- and those same medications are linked to increasing rates of poisonings in children and teens, a study finds.
Specifically, pediatric poisonings are most strongly correlated with hypoglycemics or diabetes medications; beta blockers to treat high blood pressure and other heart ailments; opioid painkillers, and statins and other cholesterol-lowering lipid-lowering medications, says the report in July's Pediatrics, published online today.
Annually, more than 70,000 kids 18 and under go to hospital emergency departments because of unintentional medication exposures and poisonings, according to the report. Between 2001 and 2008, the rate of visits increased by 30%; the rate of hospitalizations increased by 36%.
For the new study, researchers analyzed exposures and poisonings reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System from 2000 through 2009 for the medications most commonly prescribed to adults.
Although antidepressants are among those most commonly prescribed, according to the National Ambulatory Medical Care surveys, they were excluded from the study because they are increasingly prescribed for young people. "We were interested in looking at medications that are specifically most common in the adult population and are intended for adults," says Lindsey Burghardt, an emergency medicine physician at Children's Hospital Boston and lead author of the study.
Across the four classes of medications analyzed, the greatest poisoning risk was for children under age 5 and then for ages 13 to 19.
Different behaviors account for the poisonings, says Florence Bourgeois, an emergency medicine physician at Children's Hospital Boston and study co-author.
"In younger kids you're looking at exploratory behaviors. Children who accidentally stumble on a drug, either left in a purse or on the ground, will put them in their mouth and are exposed or poisoned," she says.
"With adolescents, you're looking at intentional behavior. They are seeking out these drugs, in particular opioids, with the intent of recreational use or for self-harm."
There's been a growing concern about the rise in prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and codeine, as a leading cause of death in young adults, and this paper supports that concern, says Shan Yin, medical director of the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. He was not involved in the study.
Opioids are "particularly worrisome in that even a single pill can result in the fatality of a child, unlike a lot of the other drugs," he says.
Educational campaigns on safe medication storage and the introduction of child-resistant closures on prescription bottles have been extremely successful, says Bourgeois. But the study findings suggest that the types of medications and the number of medications that are currently available "may impact the effectiveness of some of the existing interventions currently in place," she says.
Michelle Healy, USA TODAY