Parents with substance use disorders are leaving fentanyl and other drugs within reach.
The opioid epidemic in Minnesota is presenting yet another distressing consequence: an alarming increase in the number of young children hospitalized due to unintentionally being exposed to fentanyl and other drugs, according to the Minnesota Poison Control System.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that acts on the central nervous system, binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to produce pain relief and feelings of euphoria. It is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance and is similar to other opioids such as morphine and heroin. However, the drug is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Since January 2022, the organization has received reports of approximately 66 children under the age of 3 who required medical treatment after being exposed to opioids, including the potent drug fentanyl. However, Dr. Travis Olives, associate medical director, believes this figure might be an underestimate, indicating that the actual number of affected children could be higher.
Dr. Olives highlights that children are being exposed unintentionally with cases occurring in households where adults struggle with substance use disorder, particularly opioid addiction. Such dangerous situations arise when drug paraphernalia and substances are inadvertently left within reach of young children, who are naturally curious and tend to explore their surroundings by putting objects in their mouths.
“It’s likely that substances that are being abused may inadvertently be left out in a place where a child might be able to access them,” he explained, emphasizing the importance of keeping all medications and drugs out of the reach of small children.
Young children who are just learning to crawl and pull themselves up are particularly vulnerable to unintentionally ingesting life-threatening substances due to their small size and lack of awareness.
The doctor also warns that buprenorphine, a drug used to treat adults with opioid use disorder, poses a significant danger to children. Even a single tablet of buprenorphine can cause severe illness in a child, as their bodies respond differently to the drug when compared to adults. In 31 of the reported cases, the affected children suffered moderate to major effects, ranging from sleepiness to respiratory failure. In extreme cases, the drug can be fatal.
To prevent such tragedies, caregivers must ensure that all drugs are stored well out of the reach of children. Placing drugs on tables or at eye level is insufficient; they should be kept in areas that are inaccessible.
Symptoms of opioid exposure in children include sleepiness, decreased alertness, or unresponsiveness, slow, shallow, or absent breathing, vomiting, blue-shaded skin, and small pupils. If anyone suspects that a child has been exposed to fentanyl or any other opioid, immediate medical attention is crucial, and they should call 911 without delay.
As Dr. Olives cautions about the unintentional exposure to opioids in children, it is essential to acknowledge the severity of this issue and address it with utmost vigilance. As Helen Keller once said, “Prevention is better than cure.” By taking proactive measures to secure medications and raise awareness about the potential dangers, we can protect our children from the devastating consequences of opioid exposure.