Study: Hospitals see a troubling rise in pediatric ICU admissions for opioid ingestion

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Despite suggestions of a plateau in adult opioid use, a new study finds rising numbers of drug-related hospitalizations among children. (Image: Getty/smartstock)

As government agencies and healthcare providers scramble to address the opioid epidemic, a new study indicates the rate of children hospitalized for opioid ingestion continues to increase.

Data published in the April edition of the journal Pediatrics shows admissions to pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) related to opioid ingestion increased by 35% between 2004 and 2015.

The only good news is that hospitals are adjusting to create more efficient treatment workflows and to lower the cost of care, even as the overall use of pediatric critical care resources has risen over time, according to the study.

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The ongoing national opioid epidemic has generated a wide-ranging response across the industry, from bipartisan legislative efforts to provider-driven initiatives to change treatment protocols for patients with chronic pain.

The possible glimmers of hope from the declining availability of prescription painkillers and early data that could herald a fall in adult overdose death rates have yet to penetrate the population of vulnerable children who become “second victims” of the epidemic, in the words of Jason Kane, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at UChicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital, and the new study’s lead author.

The study traces the increase in pediatric opioid ingestion to a rise in adult drug prescriptions. Researchers found that young children were especially at risk for exposure, with 20% of cases involving children under the age of six related to Methadone ingestion.

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“What concerns us is the rate that PICU admissions are increasing over time, which is in contrast to adult data that suggest we have reached a plateau in hospitalization for opioid overdose,” Kane said in an announcement.

Given that there are almost 20 times the number of adult ICU beds available nationwide than PICU beds, he said the strain on resources due to pediatric opioid ingestion—a preventable illness—is extremely troublesome.