A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics by Julie Gaither, PhD, MPH, RN, assistant professor of pediatrics (general pediatrics) and of epidemiology (chronic disease epidemiology) examines the extent to which the nation’s fentanyl crisis affects kids across America. Fentanyl was implicated in 5,194 (38%) of the 13,861 fatal pediatric opioid poisonings between 1999 and 2021. In 1999, only around 5% of opioid deaths in children were due to fentanyl, but in 2021, the drug was responsible for 94% of deaths. Pediatric deaths from fentanyl began to rise substantially in 2013, around the same time fentanyl deaths also trended upward for adults. Since 2013, pediatric deaths from fentanyl have risen 3,000%.
Gaither wants parents and caregivers to know these deaths are entirely preventable. Having Narcan or naloxone on hand can save a child’s life. Naloxone is safe for kids of all ages and most states now have standing orders that allow pharmacists to dispense the medication to anyone in need.
Given that the majority of fentanyl poisonings in kids occur in the child’s own home, it is also important that parents know to keep their drugs/medications in a locked medicine cabinet or box and properly dispose of them when they are no longer needed–police stations and pharmacies often can collect and dispose of these old or unused prescriptions.
Gaither notes that since the opioid epidemic began nearly twenty-five years ago, no study has yet reported on national trends in fentanyl poisonings among young children. Gaither says, “Fentanyl is increasingly taking a toll on the most vulnerable in this country. In 2021 alone, there were 133 deaths from fentanyl among children younger than 5 years of age. We must do more to protect kids from this lethal drug.”
Citation: National Trends in Pediatric Deaths from Fentanyl, 1999-2021, Gaither JR. National Trends in Pediatric Deaths From Fentanyl, 1999-2021. JAMA Pediatr. Published online May 08, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.0793
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