A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics has shown that children and teenagers are at a greater risk than ever of being poisoned by opioids, typically by consuming prescriptions that were prescribed for other family members.

The problem has become so bad, that the number of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning has risen 165% from 1997 to 2012.

While teenagers are most at risk of opioid poisoning due to the tendency to experiment or suicidal thought patterns, the rate of toddlers hospitalized for opioid use has gone up by 200%.

Researchers think that they because so many adults have prescriptions for opioids around the house, children often mistake them for food or candy. They may then consume them under this guise, which leads to overdose.

Study authors feel this should put pressure on doctors to discuss how to store precriptions, especially opioids, safely. However, they also confirm that doctors are not always in tune with what family members of the person in question may need and may not have time to discuss how to store prescriptions in a safer way.

Sharon Levy, who directs the adolescent substance abuse program at Boston Children’s Hospital said of the drugs:

“This is largely seen as an adolescent problem or an adult problem. But this paper really highlights that this really knows no age boundaries.”

She also added:

“Opioids cause respiratory suppression. If you are a 30-pound person and getting into the medication that was supposed to be for a 150-pound person, it’s going to be a whopping dose for you.”

Although overdose is a problem, it is unclear if children who take the unprescribed painkillers become addicted to them in the long term.

Many, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) feel the program could be curbed by asking doctors to prescribe smaller doses of opioids for short-term problems like recovering from surgery. This is because storage of the drugs often becomes an issue. If the drugs are not stored in a safe place, they may cause children to find them and either mistake them for food or use them themselves unprescribed.

Researchers, however, acknowledge that this will only help solve a small portion of the problem and further research and discussion is needed for an adequate solution.

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