More Adult Prescription-Drug Use Leads to Increased Poisonings in Kids

A new study shows that the rise in prescription-drug use among U.S. adults has led to more poisonings among children

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Parents’ prescription-drug use has dangerous implications for kids.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the rise in prescription-medication use among U.S. adults has led to more poisonings among children — despite efforts to prevent that outcome. The phenomenon is so concerning that researchers are advising pediatricians to talk with parents about how to safely store prescription drugs away from kids of all ages.

The investigators write that despite public-health interventions like educational campaigns and the introduction of child-resistant medicine bottles, between 2001 and 2008, pediatric emergency-department visits due to medication exposures increased 30%, while the rate of hospitalizations increased 36%. Simultaneously, the number of U.S. adults using prescription medications has also gone up. Researchers decided to explore whether there is a connection between the two. Their findings don’t look good for child safety.

Research shows that more children are being exposed to medications not intended for them, and that most of these poisonings come from consuming prescription drugs vs. over-the-counter ones. Most of these drug exposures happen in a child’s home, from medications belonging to an adult relative.

(MORE: Study: Internet Access May Increase Prescription-Drug Misuse)

The researchers looked at two databases and compared monthly pediatric poisonings with the number of adult drug prescriptions from 2000 to 2009. During those years, there was a rise in adult prescriptions for diabetes drugs, statins and other lipid-lowering medications as well as beta-blockers and opioids. They noted a significant association between the rise in adult prescriptions for those drugs — including hypoglycemics, antihyperlipidemics, b-blockers, and opioids — and poisonings among children for those specific medications.

The strongest link between drugs and emergency-department visits for pediatric poisonings was connected to lipid medications and beta-blockers. Serious injuries and hospitalizations occurred most often for opioids and diabetes medications.

Children under age 5 had the highest risk of poisonings, followed by 13- to 19-year-olds. For young kids, medication poisonings are more commonly caused by unintentional consumption, but for teens, it’s more likely from recreational use. It’s not enough to keep prescription meds out of the reach of young kids; households with teens should be equally mindful of where those drugs are stored to avoid harm and overdose from risky behavior.

(MORE: More Kids Accidentally Ingesting Marijuana Following New Drug Policies)

The authors suggest that although public-health initiatives, like the 2008 Preventing Overdoses and Treatment Exposures Task Force, may be effective, kids are still being exposed at greater levels. “Pediatricians should consult parents of patients on storing medications, focusing on how exposures vary based on the child’s age and intention. Physicians prescribing drugs to adults should also be aware of the potential risk of exposures to children and provide guidance accordingly,” the authors write.

Unfortunately, adult prescription-drug use is unlikely to fall anytime soon, especially given the high obesity rates in the U.S. Many of the drugs specifically implicated in the study, like antihyperlipidemics, oral hypoglycemics and b-blockers, are taken to treat obesity-related conditions.

The researchers conclude that based on their findings, there’s a growing need for improved interventions for prescription-drug ingestion, including more age-specific prevention strategies.


I rambled on too long and lost my point:  We need to know these things so that we can ACCURATELY assess the effectiveness of CURRENT efforts, and therefore make better-informed judgments about what to do next!  Efforts that are seen as ineffective may actually have a positive effect, and that could significantly change the decision about what further efforts to make (what to do next). 

We need accurate results before we can make the best decisions about moving forward!  That is my only concern and point to all of this.


This seems overly simplified, but I have yet to read the study.  More info needs to be released re. % increase in the population vs. % increase in poisonings, % increase in the PRESCRIBED population vs. % increase in poisonings, etc.  I suspect a spurious correlation here, with many factors possibly at play.  The biggest question is.: "On a per capita basis of prescribed adults, what is the percentage of poisoned children?"  I.E. - If 40% of adults are now prescribed, how does the percentage of child poisonings compare?"  If the results are something like (just for example) "Well, 35% of children with prescribed parents are poisoned", then how does that compare to the % of children poisoned with prescribed parents 10 or 15 years ago?  Facts are:  Our population is increasing, and per-capita prescriptions are increasing.  Of COURSE with more people and more "drugs-per-person" there will be an overall increase in child poisonings!  However - the percentages can still indeed show that as a PERCENTAGE of PRESCRIBED adults, child poisoning may be level or actually decreasing! 

Their quote from above:  ...."between the years 2001 and 2008, pediatric emergency department visits due to medication exposures increased 30%, while the rate of hospitalizations increased 36%. Simultaneously, the number of U.S adults using prescription medications has also gone up."  What they DON'T disclose is critical:  What has been the total population % increase during that time, AND what is the total per-capita prescribed population increase during that time! 

A quick search shows that the US population increased 12% between 2000 and 2010.  Another quick search (don't have time for more right now) showed that by 2008, 50% of Americans were taking at least one prescribed drug, and 10% were taking 5 or more per month!!! 

Another source - the US center for disease control and prevention - released a study showing that between 1997 and 2007, the "milligram per person" use of opioids (agreed by many to be our most common and feared current problem) in the U.S. increased from 74mg to 369 mg, an increase of 402%!  Additionally, from 2000 - 2009, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed increased from 174 million to 257 million, a 48% increase!  The most important result stated in the study (quote): "these increases MIRRORED the increase in prescription drug abuse!!!! 

YES, more kids are being poisoned, but these findings bring a significant shadow of doubt to the conclusion this article wants you to make: that the PERCENTAGE of child poisonings is on the rise.  These studies mentioned above serve as a potentially indicate that may not be the case. 

As much as anyone, I want to see the issue addressed.  We have a problem - but this problem is NOT new!!!  YES too many child poisonings and overdoses (and abuse) occur, and I am 100% supportive of efforts to curb THAT problem!!!  But we should NOT be called to action by misleading, undisclosed, or under-disclosed facts.  I do NOT believe, until a study shows otherwise, that it is an "epidemic" of any sort (= increasing rapidly on a per-capita basis)!  I support the efforts completely.  I do NOT support the use misleading information as a tool to issue a "call to arms". 

An "epidemic" is something that is affecting an "INCREASING PERCENTAGE" of the population in an exponentially increasing percentage or rate of that population over time.   (Example: 2% this month, 4% next month, 8% the third month, 16% the fourth month, etc.)