Prescription Drug Epidemic Spreading to Teenagers

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Our society continually tries to create safe environments for children. Safety gates, car seats, electrical outlet plugs, safety locks, and information on everything from how to safely wash baby bottles to how to safely put your child to sleep each night.

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns parents and physicians of a new epidemic threatening the lives of some children. According to the report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the number of children who died from accidental poisoning has risen dramatically over the last 10 years. They stress that the rise in this number is due to the number of deaths from prescription painkiller overdose.

Obtaining Prescription Drugs

It is easier than one would think for a 15-year-old to get possession of drugs that could pull them into addiction or even cause them to die of an accidental overdose. Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, says that teens are most likely obtaining these prescriptions from the medicine cabinets in their homes and buying them on the street.

While prescription painkillers are largely used by older adults, some adolescents are also on these pain medications. Sports, injuries, and other ailments may introduce adolescents to their first long-term prescription drugs. But just as some older adults may accidentally take too many pills or a higher than recommended dosage, these young adults may fall victim to the same.

Young people often feel more invincible and may not realize how powerfully prescription drugs can affect their bodies. When the medicine cabinet is just down the hall from their bedroom, it is easy and tempting to just grab a few more pills on the way to the kitchen.

Accidental Deaths Are Preventable

The CDC reports that the leading cause of mortality in children is from accidental injuries. Even though motor vehicle accidents rank first as the leading accidental injury, the numbers of these deaths are decreasing. From 2000 to 2009, there was a 41 percent decrease in the number of children who died in automobile accidents.

During that same period, accidental poisoning deaths (which includes all prescription drug overdoses) among teens aged 15 through 19 years rose by 91 percent.

Prevention was key in reducing the automobile accident mortality rate. Stricter seat belt laws, frequent community car seat inspections, more restrictions for teenage drivers, and other factors helped educate parents and helped save lives.

The CDC believes that prevention can also help reduce the numbers of children who die from accidental prescription drug overdose.

A Plan for Action

The CDC outlined their plan for prevention of prescription drug overdose in their National Action Plan for Child Injury Prevention. Sixty other groups, including children’s hospitals and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, collaborated in designing the plan.

Dr. Gilchrist does not believe that adults should passively take the attitude that "accidents happen." Gilchrist knows that accidents can be prevented. With attention to and good communication with children, more accidental deaths from poisoning can be prevented.

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