When Meds Aren't Kept Out of Reach

Accidental opioid ingestion by children usually due to medication accessibility

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Kids may be small, but they can be resourceful. If they see something they want — like a medicine bottle that might look like candy — they will do their best to get it. And that can be a problem.

A recent study looked at how common it was for children to be exposed to a certain type of opioid.

Opioids are medications that act like morphine, a common painkiller. The particular opioid group studied in this research is used to treat addiction to opioids.

The children exposed to the opioid experienced a range of negative effects, and four died.

The main reason the children had gotten the medication was that it was within their reach. 

"Keep medications out of children's reach."

This study, led by Eric J. Lavonas, MD, of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, looked at the rates and effects of young children accidentally taking opioids.

The researchers looked at medications containing buprenorphine, an opioid medication given for pain or to treat opioid addictions.

These medications include the brand names Buprenex, Butrans, Subutex, Suboxone, Norspan and Temgesic. Norspan and Butrans are typically patches placed on the skin, and Buprenex is an injection.

The researchers focused on the medications given in the mouth. These included Temgesic tablets placed under the tongue and Suboxone or Subutex, a film placed under the tongue.

The researchers collected data on all the cases of children aged 28 days to 6 years old who had consumed buprenorphine-containing medications between October 2009 and March 2012. They used a surveillance system from the local poison center program and another surveillance system set up by a pharmaceutical company.

The researchers identified 2,380 cases, which included four children who died from taking the drug.

The children were three times more likely to have eaten tablets than to have been exposed to the film formulation, made of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, that's placed under the tongue.

They were almost nine times more likely to have eaten buprenorphine-naloxone tablets than the film.

The researchers also looked at the likely reasons that the children had ingested the medication.

The most common cause they identified was that the medication was accessible to the children. Either it was stored in plain sight, kept in a bag or purse that the child had taken it from or not stored in the original packaging.

The most common effects caused by the children's swallowing the medication were excessive tiredness, difficulty breathing, vomiting and a shrinking of the pupils in their eyes.

"Unintentional exposure to buprenorphine can cause central nervous system depression, respiratory depression, and death in young children," the researchers wrote. "Package and storage deficiencies contribute to unintentional exposures in young children."

Most of the children were effectively treated if they swallowed the medicine, and the authors noted that the severity of the cases would have been worse if the children had not promptly received medical attention.

This study was published August 29 in The Journal of Pediatrics. The research was funded by Reckitt-Benckiser Pharmaceuticals.

Two authors are part of a company that consults for Reckitt-Benckiser Pharmaceuticals. The surveillance system used in the study for data is funded by manufacturers. No other potential conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 29, 2013
Last Updated:
August 29, 2013