Buprenorphine--A Warning about Health Risks to Children

Unintended Pediatric and Teen Exposure to Medication

Researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy are warning of serious health risks to children from unintentional exposure to buprenorphine, the medication often used to treat opioid use disorder. Findings from their recent study, conducted in association with the Central Ohio Poison Center report over 11,000 calls to poison centers nationwide between 2007 and 2016 for pediatric exposure to buprenorphine. 86% of these referrals involved children under 6 years of age, and 98% of calls were for unintentional ingestion. Almost one-half of the children involved required treatment at a healthcare facility, and 21% experienced serious adverse effects. 11 children died. Senior author Gary Smith, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy commented “Buprenorphine is an important medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder among teenagers and adults. But it can cause decreased breathing and death if a young child swallows it. That is why all buprenorphine products should use unit-dose packaging to help prevent unintentional access by young children.”

In contrast to younger children, the study found that 77% of buprenorphine exposure in teens aged 13-19 was intentional, and 28% also involved multiple drugs. Over 20% of referrals involving teens required admittance to a healthcare facility for treatment of serious adverse effects. 150 suspected suicide attempts were logged in the study period. Study author Henry Spiller, MS, D.ABAT, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center warned “Parents and caregivers who take buprenorphine need to store it safely: up, away, and out of sight – in a locked cabinet is best. Additionally, there is rising concern of adolescents abusing buprenorphine.”

Read about the study findings.

The journal article may be read here.

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