According to a recent study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, the yearly rate of poisoning due to opioid overdoses among teens and children from 1997 to 2012 increased 165%. The opioid epidemic has stirred the concern of Washington politicians, including presidential candidate Trump campaigning in New Hampshire. But before leaving office, however, President Barack Obama, also stated, “When you look at the staggering statistics in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities, but most importantly, cost to families from this epidemic of opioids abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen.” Obama spoke to the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, GA in March 2016. “I think the public doesn’t fully appreciate yet the scope of the problem,” he said.
Statistics: Hospital Poisonings of Teens and Children
Children 1-4 years increased 205%. Teens 15-19 years increased 176% Teens 15-19 years heroin poisonings increased 161% Teens 15-19 years methadone poisoning increased 950%
The problem is big enough for adults, but for teens and children? Accidental overdoses of painkillers accounted for most poisonings among children younger than 10, according to Julie Gaither, the study’s lead researcher, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. She warned of young children “eating them like candy.” Although accidental overdoses accounted for most poisonings, teens also used these drugs to attempt suicide. In the habit of using other types of drugs to get high, teens use opioids in the same way (see graphic above). “This is largely seen as an adolescent problem or an adult problem,” said Sharon Levy of Boston Children’s Hospital. “But this paper really highlights that this really knows no age boundaries.”
Solutions: Prevention, Early Intervention, Medications, Complimentary Strategies
In my reading, here are important solutions experts have offered as a way of dealing with the opioid crisis: comprehensive strategies to target opioid storage, packaging, and misuse. Target groups at risk for substance abuse and focus on improving family bonds and peer-resistance skills. Physician education on appropriate opioid prescribing, prescription monitoring programs, and campaigns to advise parents of teens to lock up prescription opioid medications and to dispose of old pills. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has endorsed numerous evidence-based programs shown to delay teen substance use and to protect youth into adulthood. The Strengthening Families Program, a skills training intervention for teens and parents, is one such program. This step will require states to invest money to begin.
Boston pediatricians Hagland and Bailey recommend intervention when teens first show indications of addiction. This could help avoid a lifetime of harm. Only one in 12 youth who need treatment for addiction, however, receive it. The reasons: treatment facilities are limited, few pediatricians are trained to treat addiction, and coverage by insurance carriers is also limited. As a nation, the docs say we should expand access and reduce barriers to addiction care for teens. Even when teens find treatment, however, many programs treat them as part of adult programs. Providers, however, should consider the unique developmental needs of youth. Traditional, sometimes punitive, rules of many treatment programs can drive young people away. As a result, youth are only one-third as likely as older persons to remain in treatment.
The doctors also state that effective treatment for teens should incorporate evidence based medications: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that they be offered to youth, only 2 percent of teens in treatment receive one, compared to 26 percent of adults. As federal and state agencies work to expand access to addiction treatment, they should dedicate funding to programs to train providers on best practices to care for addicted teens. Finally, many young people’s caregivers are excluded from the recovery process. But enlisting family support offers a unique opportunity for treatment programs to foster long-term recovery. The Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and other similar agencies have invested in family-centered treatment programs. Other services should follow their lead.
What information in this blog surprised you? How have you been affected by opiate addiction in your family, in your life? What steps have you taken to get help for others, for yourself? How have the spiritual needs of the addicted person been met?
[Sources: Graphic: Flikr.com Gaither, et. al., National Trends in Hospitalizations for Opioid Poisonings Among Children And Adolescents, 1997 to 2017, Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, 2016, 170 (12), 1195-1201. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-pressonce/2016/03/29/fact-sheet-obama-administrationannounces-additional-actions-address http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-opioidoverdoses-rising-among-kids-health-1109-20161031-story.html http://www.npr.org/sections/healthshots2016/10/31/500091889/more-children-are-beingpoisoned-by-prescription-opoioids Hung En-Sun, et. al., Nonmedical use of prescription opioids among teenagers in the United States: Trends and correlates, Journal of Adolescent Health, 37 (2005), 44-52. Hagland, Scott, and Sarah Bailey, The Opioid Epidemic Needs a Strategy For Teens, Common Health, WBUR, August 29, 2017.]