Nav: Home

Hospitalizations for children, teens attributed to opioid poisoning jump

October 31, 2016

The overall incidence of hospitalizations for prescription opioid poisonings in children and adolescents has more than doubled from 1997 to 2012, with increasing incidence of poisonings attributed to suicide or self-inflicted injury and accidental intent, according to a new study published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

The use of prescription opioid pain medication has increased dramatically over the years. However, it was unknown how many children and adolescents were hospitalized each year for opioid poisonings and how those rates have changed over time. A clearer understanding of pediatric opioid-related illness and death is needed because opioids are already among the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently approved the use of oxycodone hydrochloride for children who meet certain criteria.

Julie R. Gaither, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., of the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., and coauthors analyzed pediatric hospital discharge records for every three years from 1997 through 2012. They used diagnosis codes to identify 13,052 discharge records for children and adolescents hospitalized for opioid poisonings; they also identified opioid poisonings attributed to heroin for adolescents ages 15 to 19. Across the study period, 176 children (1.3 percent) died during hospitalization.

The authors estimate that from 1997 to 2012, the incidence of hospitalizations from opioid poisonings:
  • Increased among children ages 1 to 19 by 165 percent from 1.40 to 3.71 per 100,000 children.
  • Increased among children ages 1 to 4 by 205 percent from 0.86 to 2.62 per 100,000 children.
  • Increased in teens ages 15 to 19 by 176 percent from 3.69 to 10.17 per 100,000 children; poisonings from heroin in this age group also increased by 161 percent from 0.96 to 2.51 per 100,000 children; and poisonings involving methadone increased by 950 percent from 0.10 to 1.05 per 100,000 children.

Demographics characteristics include males accounting for 34.7 percent of the hospitalizations in 1997 but that proportion grew to 47.4 percent by 2012. Also, most of the children hospitalized were predominantly white (73.5 percent) and covered by private insurance (48.8 percent). However, the proportion of children insured by Medicaid grew from 24.1 percent in 1997 to 44 percent in 2012, according to the report.

When the authors examined intent behind the opioid poisonings, there were 16 poisonings attributed to suicide or self-inflected injury among children younger than 10 from 1997 to 2012. In children ages 10 to 14, the incidence of poisonings attributed to suicide or self-inflicted injury increased by 37 percent from 0.62 in 1997 to 0.85 in 2012 per 100,000 children. The incidence of poisonings attributed to accidental intent increased by 82 percent from 0.17 in 1997 to 0.31 in 2012.

In teens ages 15 to 19, opioid poisonings attributed to suicide or self-inflicted injury increased by 140 percent, while those attributed to accidental intent increased 303 percent in this age group.

The study has several limitations, including estimates based on diagnosis codes that are subject to miscoding. Also, the study cannot provide a full clinical picture or psychosocial profile of the children who were hospitalized or validate diagnosis codes with toxicology results.

"Our research, however, suggests that poisonings by prescription and illicit opioids are likely to remain a persistent and growing problem in the young unless greater attention is directed toward the pediatric community, who make up nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population. ... In addition, further resources should be directed toward addressing opioid misuse and abuse during adolescence," the study concludes.
(JAMA Pediatr. Published online October 31, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.2154. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor's Note: The article contains funding/support disclosures. Please see article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, etc.

Video Content: The JAMA Report video will be available under embargo at this link, and include broadcast-quality downloadable video files, B-roll, scripts and other images. Please email with any questions.

Other related content: A graphic image also is available on the For The Media website.

To place an electronic embedded link to this study in your story Links will be live at the embargo time:

The JAMA Network Journals

Related Suicide Articles:

Does religion protect against suicide?
Religious participation is linked to lower suicide rates in many parts of the world, including the United States and Russia, but does not protect against the risk of suicide in sections of Europe and Asia, finds new research by a Michigan State University scholar.
Children at increased risk of suicide
Teenagers injured through drinking, drug abuse or self-harming have a five-fold increased risk of dying from suicide in the next decade.
Young cancer survivors have twice the risk of suicide
Survivors of cancer diagnosed before the age of 25 had a more than two-fold increased risk of suicide compared to their non-cancer peers.
Suicide prevention: Reacting to the tell-tale signs
Can search engines save lives? Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers are working on an approach which would enable search engines to more effectively identify users who are at risk of suicide and provide them with information on where to find help.
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy
Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy, and it should be included in the 2017 federal budget, argues an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
How to reduce US firearm suicide rates?
Reducing firearm access, smart gun technology, and public education could reduce firearm suicides in the United States, finds a new report from Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Arthritis linked to suicide attempts
One in every 26 men with arthritis have attempted suicide compared to one in 50 men without arthritis.
Two in 5 individuals with schizophrenia have attempted suicide
A new study by the University of Toronto (U of T), released today, found that those with schizophrenia who'd been physically abused during childhood were five times more likely to have attempted suicide.
Victimized adolescents more at risk of thinking about suicide or attempting suicide at 15
A study to be published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that adolescents chronically victimized during at least two school years, are about five times more at risk of thinking about suicide and six times more at risk of attempting suicide at 15 years compared to those who were never victimized.
1 in 10 suicide attempt risk among friends and relatives of people who die by suicide
People bereaved by the sudden death of a friend or family member are 65 percent more likely to attempt suicide if the deceased died by suicide than if they died by natural causes.

Related Suicide Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...