Standing in line for a prescription renewal at my local CVS the other day, I started counting. I was 20th in line. While feeling agitated at this annoying delay, I began wondering how long this has been going on. Did we always need to pop this many pills?
A disturbing report in the journal Pediatrics confirmed my suspicions and revealed a scary correlation:
Increasing rates of adult drug prescriptions are strongly associated with increases in drug exposures and poisonings among children and appear to be a direct cause of exposures and poisonings.
According to the study, beta blockers, medications correlated with hypoglycemics or diabetes medications, opioid painkillers and cholesterol-lowering medications were most frequently associated with these accidental poisonings.
This study was prompted by the alarming discovery that poisonings of children by medication rose by one-third between 2001 and 2008.
At the same time, the number of adults who took one or more prescription drug increased by 10 percent, according to a federal health study.
The numbers are staggering:
More than 70,000 kids ages 18 and under are visiting emergency rooms each year due to poisonings from these meds. Between 2001 and 2008, the rate of hospitalizations went up by 36 percent and the rate of ER visits went up by 30 percent.
NBC news reports:
Over that time, 38,485 children took diabetes drugs that lower blood sugar; 39,693 took cholesterol-lowering medications; 49,075 took blood pressure drugs called beta-blockers, which slow heart rate, and 62,416 took opioid painkillers. Kids 5 and younger were by far the most likely to be poisoned, but 2,330 teens were treated for opioid poisoning, and they very likely took the drugs on purpose.
The report only looked at those four drug classes, since they were the most commonly involved in poisonings.
Another study, conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2011, found similar results: prescription drugs accounted for 55 percent of kids five and younger treated in emergency rooms for medication poisoning, and 43 percent of the children required intensive care.
It’s not so surprising that adult prescription drug use is on the rise: as I sit here typing, I am receiving yet another spam email, suggesting that I purchase drugs online from a Canadian pharmacy, at a 50 percent savings. Who can resist?
But why are kids being poisoned?
From USA Today:
Different behaviors account for the poisonings, says Florence Bourgeois, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s Hospital Boston and study co-author.
“In younger kids you’re looking at exploratory behaviors. Children who accidentally stumble on a drug, either left in a purse or on the ground, will put them in their mouth and are exposed or poisoned,” she says.
“With adolescents, you’re looking at intentional behavior. They are seeking out these drugs, in particular opioids, with the intent of recreational use or for self-harm.”
A two-year-old who grabs a red pill, thinking it’s a piece of candy, is very different from a 14-year-old who’s stealing Mom’s OxyContin.
For the under-fives, experts recommend keeping drugs off the counter, and using blister packs or childproof containers. And if parents are ingesting pills in front of young children, it’s a good idea for them to explain that the medicines are helpful in treating certain conditions, but can also be extremely dangerous.
Parents of teenagers, however, need to talk to their children about the dangers of taking medications not prescribed to them, and they should probably lock up those drugs. Or if they think their kids are at risk of taking drugs, maybe they should simply remove those drugs from the home.
Come to that, shouldn’t we all examine how many drugs we are taking, and see if we really need all that medication?