Accidental drug overdoses are increasingly affecting Kentucky’s youngest citizens

Deborah Yetter, a writer for the Kentucky Lantern, shares her insights.

Kentucky’s youngest children remain vulnerable to accidental drug overdoses, with both the number of fatalities and the potency of the drugs or drug combinations involved on the rise.

In the fiscal year 2022, eight children tragically lost their lives due to drug ingestion, while an additional 47 children experienced an overdose. These heartbreaking incidents were reviewed by the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, which has recently published its annual report.

The report revealed that most of the victims of overdose were children aged 4 or younger.

According to the panel’s report, there was only one fatality in the 32 overdose cases it examined five years ago.

Only a small percentage of child overdoses in Kentucky are included in the report as it only focuses on cases where there is suspicion of abuse or neglect leading to the death or near-death of a child.

According to a report, emergency department data reveals that in 2022, a total of 721 children in Kentucky ended up in hospital emergency rooms due to drug ingestion. Out of these cases, 72 children required hospitalization.

Dr. Melissa Currie, a forensic pediatrician and founding member of the panel, expressed deep concern over cases like these.

According to Professor Currie, a specialist in medicine from Norton Children’s Hospital and the University of Louisville medical school, the issue of ingestions is a pressing problem that is quickly escalating. He emphasizes the importance of improving parental education to raise awareness about the dangers associated with ingesting harmful substances.

According to the report, the greatest risk lies in drug use within the home.

According to the report, children who reside in households where caregivers engage in the use of illicit or hazardous substances are more vulnerable to accidental ingestion. The report further highlights the potential danger of children unintentionally consuming drugs that are utilized in the treatment of opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine.

Children are consuming a variety of drugs, including opioids, fentanyl, medications used for treating opioid use disorder, and, notably, cannabis or products containing THC, which is the primary chemical in marijuana.

In many instances, these cases involve a mixture of medications.

In one instance, the report highlighted a tragic case involving a 19-month-old child who tested positive for fentanyl and morphine. This heartbreaking incident took place in a household where an adult had previously died from an overdose just two months earlier. Both parents admitted to using heroin, and two other children in the home also tested positive for fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid.

According to the report, two children tragically lost their lives after consuming cannabis products.

According to Currie, it is important for the public to be aware of the potential risks associated with legal products made from hemp, including gummies.

“It can still land kids in the ICU,” she cautioned.

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Most deaths or injuries can be prevented.

The independent panel, established in 2012 to thoroughly review cases of child deaths and serious injuries resulting from abuse or neglect, consists of a diverse group of professionals. This panel includes physicians, judges, lawyers, police officers, legislators, and social service and health professionals. They convene regularly throughout the year to carefully analyze these cases.

The committee is responsible for creating a yearly report that outlines its discoveries to the governor, legislators, and other authorities. The report also includes recommendations for enhancing the well-being of children in a state that has consistently had a high incidence of child abuse and neglect.

State Senator Danny Carroll, a member of the panel, mentioned that he hasn’t had a chance to go through the final report yet. However, he added that both he and the General Assembly usually take the report’s findings into account when formulating public policies.

The 2024 report has analyzed cases from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. It delves into 202 incidents, revealing that 68 children lost their lives, while 134 experienced life-threatening injuries.

The majority of deaths were a result of neglect, with 10 cases attributed to physical abuse.

According to the study, a staggering 90% of the deaths and injuries could have been avoided if people had taken proper precautions. These precautions include safely storing medications and securely locking firearms. This highlights the importance of implementing preventive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals.

The panel focused on several areas this year, including drug overdoses, physical abuse, neglect, firearm deaths (including suicide), and the role of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in responding to reports of child abuse and neglect.

Household financial stress, mental illness, family violence, and addiction were identified as common factors contributing to child deaths and injuries.

The panel’s scope is limited to cases of neglect or abuse resulting in the death or near death of a child, so the report provides only a partial overview of child overdose/ingestion cases in Kentucky. Emergency department data reveals that in 2022, there were 721 children treated for drug ingestion in Kentucky hospital emergency rooms. Out of these cases, 72 children required hospitalization. (Click for larger graphic)

Here are the key findings and recommendations:

Overdose and ingestion cases

The cases of overdose and ingestion are a cause for concern. When individuals consume excessive amounts of a substance or accidentally ingest a harmful substance, it can lead to serious health complications. These cases often require immediate medical attention to address the potential dangers.

In situations where individuals intentionally overdose on medications or illicit drugs, the consequences can be life-threatening. It is crucial for individuals to seek help and support if they are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Prompt intervention can save lives and prevent further harm.

Accidental ingestion cases, especially among children, are also a significant concern. Household chemicals, medications, and other toxic substances can pose a risk if they are accessible to young children. It is essential for parents and caregivers to take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of children and prevent accidental ingestions.

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In both overdose and ingestion cases, it is crucial to contact emergency services immediately. Timely intervention and medical treatment can make a significant difference in the outcomes of these situations. Education and awareness about the risks associated with substance abuse and the importance of childproofing homes can help prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place.

Overall, overdose and ingestion cases highlight the need for proactive measures to address substance abuse and ensure the safety of individuals, particularly vulnerable populations like children. By promoting education, prevention, and timely intervention, we can strive towards reducing the occurrence of these cases and protecting the well-being of our communities.

The panel suggests that in order to address the increase in such cases over the past five years, there should be improved education offered to all professionals who are involved in providing medication assisted treatment for adults with addiction.

According to the panel’s study, 37% of the caregivers who were involved in child ingestion cases were receiving treatment, including medication, for opioid misuse.

The training should prioritize emphasizing the importance of securely storing medication and ensuring that healthcare professionals promptly report any instances of a parent relapsing.

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure should offer additional continuing education opportunities to doctors regarding opioid ingestion in children.

The report suggests that medical marijuana providers should receive training. In 2023, the Kentucky General Assembly authorized the use of medical marijuana for specific severe conditions, with the law set to take effect in 2025.

Furthermore, there is a pressing need for increased public awareness regarding safe-sleep practices and the potential risks associated with a child sharing a bed with an impaired adult.

According to the report, consuming alcohol or drugs, including prescribed medications, hampers our capacity to take care of a child, which in turn increases the risk associated with unsafe sleep practices such as bed-sharing.

For the seventh consecutive year, the panel has requested lawmakers to allocate funds for the expansion of family recovery courts across the entire state. Currently, these courts are only available in Jefferson and Clay counties.

The state is calling for the establishment of a comprehensive statewide system to develop a “Plan of Safe Care.” This system is mandated by the federal government and aims to monitor and support families with children who are at risk, especially newborns who have been exposed to drugs.

Despite the federal requirement, Kentucky, like most states, has not fully implemented a system that clearly defines responsibility.

Currie emphasized the importance of bringing this matter to everyone’s attention. According to him, it is crucial that someone takes charge and assumes responsibility for the issue, or alternatively, the legislature should assign responsibility.

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Firearms are considered a deadly means of causing harm or taking a life.

Access to firearms remains a persistent threat to the safety of children, as highlighted in the report.

One tragic incident involved a 4-year-old child who accidentally shot himself while playing with a loaded handgun he discovered in the car’s glove compartment. Another heartbreaking case involved a 14-year-old who lost his life when a friend accidentally shot him in the head while handling a loaded firearm in the parents’ bedroom. These examples highlight the devastating consequences that can occur when firearms are not properly secured and stored.

The report also takes into account child suicides, highlighting the tragic case of a 14-year-old boy who tragically took his own life after gaining access to unsecured firearms in his home.

The panel examined a total of seven suicide cases that occurred in 2022. Out of these, five were fatal, with four involving the use of firearms. Additionally, there were two attempted suicides that resulted in serious injuries. It is worth noting that the average age of the children involved in these cases was 13 years old.

Tragically, according to the panel reports, the cases they examined only represented a fraction of all youth suicide deaths in Kentucky in 2022. During that year, a devastating 29 children under the age of 18 lost their lives to suicide.

According to the report, there has been a noticeable rise in firearm injuries over the past five years, resulting in 48 fatalities and 24 near fatalities.

The panel categorized these cases as instances where individuals had easy access to lethal weapons, which could have been prevented. According to the report, in many of these cases, parents had specifically instructed their children not to handle firearms or believed that they had safely hidden the weapon.

Research shows that despite being educated not to touch firearms, most children are aware of where guns are stored and will still be inclined to touch them if given the opportunity. This finding contradicts the beliefs of many parents who assume that their children would never engage with firearms.

The panel is recommending that the legislature conduct research on national models and create legislation to encourage the safe storage of firearms.

Currie acknowledges that firearms legislation can be a contentious topic, but she firmly believes that child safety should never be compromised.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” she remarked. “That’s something we should all be able to come to a consensus on.”

Kentucky Lantern, an independent news bureau, is a proud member of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus funded by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. For any inquiries, please reach out to our Editor, Jamie Lucke, at [email protected].

Kentucky’s youngest residents are becoming more vulnerable to accidental drug overdoses.

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