America's opioid crisis has reached epic levels, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting that more than 115 people daily die after overdosing on them in our country alone. With that being said, the opioid buprenorphine is often prescribed to treat opioid addictions (yes, you read that right -- an opioid to fight an opioid addiction...we'll explain in a minute). Unfortunately, the very drug that's meant to help addicts is falling into the wrong hands -- children's hands to be exact.
According to an article published in the journal Pediatrics, more than 11,000 kids and adolescents were exposed to buprenorphine between the years 2007 to 2016. Of that staggering number, 86 percent of these children were under the age of 6. This stat was collected from phone calls to poison control centers.
Live Science reports that no one really knows why this particular drug is so prevalent, considering the many medications on the market that you can find in households across the country. The site says there's a feeling that perhaps since buprenorphine is a lower dose opioid than those that caused the addiction in the first place, perhaps parents don't see it as being that great of a threat (which is not the case).
Back to why opioid addicts are being treated with another opioid like buprenorphine: It's a much weaker type than the drug most often abused. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 'Buprenorphine’s opioid effects increase with each dose until at moderate doses they level off, even with further dose increases. This 'ceiling effect' lowers the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects. Also, because of buprenorphine’s long-acting agent, many patients may not have to take it every day."
The thing about buprenorphine is that is isn't prescribed to children under the age of 6, and with good reason. According to the Pediatrics report, around half of the kids under that age who were exposed to the drug were sent to the hospital, with 21 percent of them experiencing something serious like seizure, cardiac arrest, respiratory depression, or coma. Seven of these cases proved fatal.
The research team is urging pharmacies to place more emphasis on the potential dangers of buprenorphine in children, encouraging parents to use utmost caution when storing the medication.
Although the drug is never prescribed to 6 and unders, it also poses plenty of health risks to adolescents, who made up 11 percent of the exposures reported to poison centers. Of that number, 77 percent reportedly took the drug intentionally.