Nearly three-quarters of opioid-related adverse events seen in children were related to therapeutic opioid use, based on data from more than a million prescriptions.
Prescription of opioids to children for outpatient conditions may have risen along with the increased opioid prescriptions for adults, but most of the literature focuses on opioid toxicity in children, and “the incidence of adverse opioid effects for children during appropriate medical use for relatively minor conditions is unknown,” wrote Cecilia P. Chung, MD, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and her colleagues.
In a retrospective study published in, the researchers reviewed data from 401,972 children and adolescents aged 2-17 years with no chronic or severe conditions. The patients filled a total of 1,362,503 prescriptions for opioids, with a mean 15% filling one or more opioid prescriptions a year, and 1 in every 2,611 prescriptions was followed by an emergency department visit, hospitalization, or death related to an adverse event associated with opioid use.
Approximately 20% of the prescriptions were for children aged 2-5 years, 28% for ages 6-11 years, and 52% for ages 12-17 years. The patients were enrolled in Medicaid between Jan. 1, 1999, and Dec. 31, 2014, in Tennessee, and were seen at outpatient centers. Dental procedures were the most common reasons for opioid prescriptions in the study population (31%), followed by outpatient procedures or surgeries (25%), trauma (18%), and infections (16%).
Overall, 437 cases of opioid-related adverse events were confirmed by medical record review; 89% of these were deemed related to the prescription, and 71% were related to proper therapeutic use, the researchers said. The remainder were considered to be related to unintentional overdose, abuse, self-harm, or the circumstances were not indicated.
The opioid-related symptoms most frequently were gastrointestinal, neuropsychiatric, dermatologic, and central nervous system depression.
“The incidence of opioid-related adverse events increased for children and adolescents 12-17 years of age, during current opioid use, and with higher opioid doses,” the researchers said.
The study findings were limited by several factors including the use of Medicaid patients only, the lack of clinical details such as patient weight, and the potential for incomplete medical records, Dr. Chung and her associates noted. However, the results support the need for more comprehensive guidelines in treating acute, self-limited conditions in children to reduce unnecessary opioid exposure, they said.
The researchers had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose. The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Chung received grant support from the National Institutes of Health and the Rheumatology Research Foundation Career Development Research K-supplement.
SOURCE: Chung C et al. Pediatrics. 2018 Jul 16. .