How the Opioid Epidemic is Affecting Children

The results of a new study have unearthed some shocking data – children are increasingly being exposed to buprenorphine. Th

Jul 16
2018

The results of a new study have unearthed some shocking data – children are increasingly being exposed to buprenorphine.

The study found in the journal Pediatrics, which was published by Henry Spiller, both the author of the study and the Director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, highlighted that 86% of children under the age of six were exposed to this opioid medication, with 89% of those exposures being accidental.

More startling findings from the study showed that between 2007 and 2016, roughly 11,2000 calls were made to poison control centers regarding children who have been exposed to buprenorphine. The whole buprenorphine exposure rate per 1 million rose by 215.6% between 2007 and 2010, then decreased between 2010 to 2013, and finally increased again by 8.6% in 2016.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine, which often goes but the brand name Subutex, is a medication commonly used for the treatment of opioid addiction. Classified as a partial agonist, meaning that this substance binds to opioid receptors in the brain but does not produce the effects of a true opioid, buprenorphine has proven to be effective in weaning individuals off of opioids and helping them manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

While buprenorphine is carefully controlled, as it is often prescribed through medication-assisted treatment centers, it can still pose several dangers to those who use it. For starters, if buprenorphine is misused, it can become addictive. Additionally, through misuse, it can also produce effects including sleep problems, constipation, numbness, stomach pain, vomiting, and problems concentrating.

Despite these effects, buprenorphine is still viewed as being a safe option for opioid addiction treatment when used as prescribed.

How is Buprenorphine Affecting Children?

When an adult uses buprenorphine as prescribed, he or she is not at risk for suffering from respiratory depression, which is a common side effect of all opioids, including this one. However, when children come in contact with buprenorphine, they simply cannot handle this medication in the same way that adults do. As a result, they can experience respiratory depression and have problems related to their breathing when under the influence of buprenorphine.

The vast majority of children wind up gaining access to buprenorphine within their own homes, either through unlocked medicine cabinets or because it is within arms reach. Professionals believe that this specific type of medication might not appear to be as dangerous as others, as it is not an opioid like hydrocodone or OxyContin. However, this could not be farther from the truth, as this new study highlights just how dangerous buprenorphine exposure is to children.

Almost a quarter of children who experienced buprenorphine exposure had to spend time in an intensive care unit.

According to the National Capital Poison Center, it only takes a small bite of a buprenorphine tablet to send a child to the emergency room. Symptoms of a child who has been exposed to buprenorphine can include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation

In addition to children, teenagers are also becoming more and more exposed to buprenorphine despite knowing the risks of consuming it without a prescription. While adolescents are not likely to experience respiratory depression like children are, they can increase the side effects of buprenorphine by combining it with one or more addictive substances, like alcohol or other prescription painkillers. And while adolescents only accounted for 11% of all exposures to buprenorphine, 77% of them were done intentionally with 12% of them being included in suicides. Another 25% combined buprenorphine with at least one other addictive substance. Additionally, 60% of buprenorphine abuse occurred within male adolescents, but 60% of suicides within this age range occurred amongst women.

Spiller states that we should expect to see more exposure to buprenorphine amongst children and adolescents, as more people are obtaining opioid addiction treatment and being prescribed this medication.

sad young boy

Prevention Measures

The author of the study encourages a form of exposure prevention that matches up with the children’s age group. This can include developing “unit-dose packaging” so that pill bottles are eliminated from homes, decreasing the risk of being exposed to several pills at a time.

A tried and true measure is also recommended – locking medicine cabinets. Despite the several known risks of keeping medications out and accessible, people still continue to neglect the need to protect their families from potentially dangerous medications. In fact, the majority of buprenorphine exposure in children occurs within the home. These children either get their hands on medications that their parents leave out or pills that visitors bring along with them.

A buprenorphine subcutaneous implant was approved for use in 2016, which has the potential to eradicate children’s exposure to buprenorphine. The implant, which would be connected to the body, completely eliminates that need for pills that children and adolescents could possibly get in to.

Other ways to encourage prevention include utilizing childproof locks and ensuring that they are in place, as well as effectively disposing of unused medications (such as through a community take-back day or by bringing them to a drop box).

The need for prevention measures is critical, as not only have countless children suffered from exposure to buprenorphine, but seven children under the age of six have died as a result.

If your child becomes exposed to buprenorphine, do not waste any time getting to the closest emergency room. Doing so can prevent further damage to your child.

How You Can Help

If you are taking buprenorphine, chances are you have already received some level of addiction treatment for opioid abuse. However, it is never too late to find ways to help decrease the exposure of buprenorphine in children.

Should you be prescribed buprenorphine, it is critical that you keep it out of arms reach of children and adolescents. In fact, it is helpful to ensure that no one else but you can access this medication, as even adults can turn to the use of it if desired. Therefore, you should always find ways to protect your buprenorphine, either through locking it in a medicine cabinet, ensuring it has childproof caps or utilizing any other recommendation listed above.

When you know better, you do better. Continue to be informed about all of the medications that you are taking so that you are not only ensuring your own wellbeing at this time, but also making it a point to protect your loved ones.

If you or a loved one is struggling with any kind of opioid abuse, do not wait to get help. Remaining addicted to dangerous substances can not only endanger an individual but also put the children and adolescents around him or her at risk for danger, too.  Contact us today at 866-663-3030 to discuss your treatment options.

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