There has been a large increase in the number of young hospital patients in the United States who suffer harmful side effects from opioid painkillers, a new study says.
The findings show an urgent need for safer pain medications for young patients, the researchers said.
The researchers reviewed federal government data on hospital stays by children from 1 month to 17 years old. The data revealed the rate of opioid-related problems among these young hospital patients rose by more than 50 percent over nine years.
The overall rate of opioid-related side effects during the study period was almost 17 per 10,000 discharges, the study found.
Rates were highest among white children. That finding suggests that race may be a factor in which children are prescribed opioids to treat pain, the researchers said.
Opioid-related problems included: opioid withdrawal (3 percent), constipation (12.5 percent), altered mental status (10.5 percent), urinary retention (2 percent), cardiac arrest (1 percent) and severe allergic reaction (0.75 percent).
“For the past two decades, doctors have been increasingly recognizing and treating pain in children. Unfortunately, the efforts to improve pain management in children have led to a significant rise in the use of opioids both within hospitals as well as in the outpatient setting,” said study author Dr. Jessica Barreto. She is a third-year pediatrics resident at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.
“While these medications are valuable in providing pain relief, there are various developmental factors that place children at higher risk of toxicity,” she noted in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release.
“Further studies on the safety and efficacy of opioid use in children and alternate pain medications with less toxicity and addiction potential are urgently needed. In the meantime, judicious use of opioid medications for the treatment of pain and monitoring for their side effects is crucial,” Barreto concluded.
The study was scheduled to be presented Sept. 15 at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Chicago. Findings presented at meetings are generally seen as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on prescription opioids.