When children die from opioid use, few seem to care.
A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) documented a three-fold increase in opioid deaths among people 19 years of age and younger from 1999-2016. I work as a pediatrician in an emergency department in rural Maryland and have treated children who overdose on opioids. As shocked as I was to learn of this sobering statistic, I was more concerned about the lack of coverage that this information generated among mainstream media outlets.
I have generally applauded the response many segments of society (including the media, governmental bodies, law enforcement, etc.) mounted in response to this opioid epidemic. Learning from the wrong-headed approach to the war on drugs of the 1980s in which people who used drugs often bore the brunt of the negative vitriol and related consequences, current approaches have viewed drug use as more of a health condition. Instead of criminalizing drug use, many jurisdictions have set up “drug courts” to help people with drug use disorders get treatment and keep them out of the criminal justice system. Even with this more well-informed approach, shortcomings exist—particularly as it is related to addressing opioid misuse for minors. More specifically, many of the modalities used to treat opioid misuse (medications, treatment centers, etc.) are difficult for minors to access.
When minors are discussed with regard to the opioid epidemic, the focus is often on prevention and awareness. While laudable, such efforts do not address the needs of minors who are already misusing opioids and need treatment.
The federal government and some municipalities have made great strides in their financial support to expand centers where people with a history of opioid misuse can get help. However, there are very few centers throughout this region and country that will treat minors who misuse opioids. There are also medications that help people wean off of opioids (e.g. suboxone) but very few providers are certified to provide this medication for people less than 18 years of age.Continue reading “David Myles on the Rise of Opioid Deaths in Children”