While marijuana’s opposing forces often suggest that legalization should be avoided in order to protect the safety of the American children, a new study from Yale University finds the real threat to the well-being of the nation’s youth is prescription painkillers.
The study, which was published in the latest edition of JAMA Pediatrics, shows that children are now being poisoned by prescription opioids, most of which come from the family medicine cabinet, at a rate of 165 percent higher than they were nearly a decade ago. What’s worse is these accidents have claimed the lives of 176 children over the past six years.
“Opioids are ubiquitous now,” lead study author Julie Gaither told NPR. “Enough opioids are prescribed every year to put a bottle of painkillers in every household. They’re everywhere, and kids are getting into them.”
Incidentally, there is a distinct possibility that the rate in which children are being injured or killed through the accidental ingestion of prescription painkillers is far worse now than the study suggests. That’s because the data used to compile the study was cut off in 2012, so it is conceivable, and highly probable—especially considering the rapid uptick in opioid poisonings documented between 1997 and 2012—that more children than ever before are now are being hospitalized or even buried due to the wrath of prescription opioids.
The study shows that toddlers were hospitalized for opioids in 2012 at a rate of more than double than they were in 1997. Researchers say the increase in cases of accidental overdoses in youngsters could be due to some painkillers resembling candy.
Teenagers are also overdosing on opioid medications. The study suggests that while teen cases are typically brought on through their own volition, this age group is being hospitalized for overdoses at a rate of around eight times higher than toddlers.
Researchers believe their findings show a desperate need to address the issue of overprescribing, as well as place a heavier emphasis on doctors educating their patients on how to properly store dangerous pharmaceuticals.
“We’ve got to pay attention to children and the toll the opioid crisis is taking on them,” Gaither said. “Kids make up about a fourth of the U.S. population, and they’re suffering from this crisis, too.”
Interestingly, despite the evidence showing there is a far greater risk of a child being poisoned through the ingestion of prescription painkillers than marijuana, anti-pot campaigns all across the nation continue to suggest edible forms of the herb will lead to the destruction of the American youth.
In fact, there is now an anti-marijuana ad campaign running in Arizona trying to persuade voters not to approve Proposition 205, because it will allow the manufacture and sale of marijuana edibles—a product that many naysayers of the legalization movement credit with harming children. These ads, one that says edibles are “marketed to kids,” were purchased by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which is a campaign largely funded by a pharmaceutical company (Insys Therapeutics) profiting on the sale of opioid painkillers.
Earlier this year, a study published by Colorado pediatrician George Sam Wang found that more children have been treated for cannabis poisoning in emergency rooms since the state legalized marijuana—up from an average of eight cases in 2012-2013 to an average of 16 in 2014-2015. During that time, the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center also reported more marijuana-related calls, but only a small percentage involved “major” effects—which unlike the hundreds of accidental opioid poisonings has yet to lead to the death of a child.
In the end, parents simply need to be more careful about where they store intoxicating substances, regardless if they are for medicinal or recreational use.