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Protecting Children from the Opioid Epidemic

Protecting Children from the Opioid Epidemic

The old saying “curiosity killed the cat” dates back to the middle of the 16th century. And the idea “cats have nine lives” may predate that. Some believe the phrase originated with the Egyptian’s obsession with cats (think Sphinx). But either way, the bottom line is that cats are really curious and that can get them in big trouble, just like kids.

Is it any wonder that with the rise in opioid prescriptions, accidental opioid overdoses by children have risen too? From 1997 to 2012, among kids 10 to 14, the incidence of accidental poisoning increased 82 percent and the rate of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning increased 165 percent.

As Julie Gaither, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale School of Public Health and lead author of a study on kids and opioid overdoses published in JAMA, told NPR, “Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They’re everywhere, and kids are getting into them.” So, what can be done?

Doctors, talk to your patients about the importance of secure medication storage and disposal of unused meds. Parents, install a medicine cabinet with a lockable or very hard-to-open latch. Keep kid-proof tops on all opioid meds (even if they’re adult-proof too). Also, make sure to dispose of unused meds at a local “take-back” center or pharmacy. And as your kids grow up, don’t forget to have frequent conversations about the dangers of recreational drug use.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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