As the medical community becomes increasingly aware that doctors have over-prescribing opioids for pain management in adults in recent history, the scope has widened to also indicate that the same practice has occurred in pediatric care. A new study reported by the University of Michigan Health Lab and Pediatrics has brought to light several disturbing trends in the prescribing of opioids in children and young adults. These prescriptions usually occur following a surgical procedure but can set these young people up for a life of opioid dependence. The study revealed shocking details that will be explored below on how pediatric surgeons are setting the stage for serious opioid problems among our youth that may follow them into adulthood. 


Rise In Prescriptions

Since pain management made opioids popular in the 1990s, surgeons have prescribed opioids post-surgically for many. Often unnecessarily, as new research indicates. The University of Michigan study found that 1 in 6 prescriptions given to children 0-11 years old contained either codeine or tramadol. Both of which the FDA has explicitly warned against due to their potential for fatal overdose. These researchers analyzed roughly four million prescriptions. They found that half of all opioid prescriptions are classified as “high risk.” By their definition, this high-risk classification was assigned to prescriptions that exceeded the recommended dose, as well as prescriptions that contained a drug or combination of drugs that the FDA does not recommend to be consumed by children. Essentially, these high-risk prescriptions offer a high enough dosage of dangerous drugs that can result in overdose, misuse, or dependence in vulnerable young people under the age of 21.


Who Is To Blame?

While it may seem unfair to assign blame, it is more dangerous to ignore the issue. As stated above, pediatric opioid overprescribing usually takes place following surgery. Children and young adults often experience a few essential surgeries before the age of 21. Common surgeries like tonsil removal and wisdom tooth removal are both likely to be followed by a prescription for opioids. Additionally, as youth sports become more popular and aggressive, children have also had to deal with sports injuries, sometimes requiring surgery and additional opioids. Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, the lead author of the University of Michigan study found that 80% of dental procedures for which opioids were prescribed could have been given ibuprofen for adequate pain relief. Dr. Chua also found a high concentration of these overprescribed medications in the South, a region already being ravaged by the opioid crisis. 


What Can Be Done To Prevent Pediatric Opioid Overprescribing?

Thankfully, as more information about overprescribing becomes evident, parents and doctors are choosing alternatives to opioids for pediatric pain management. Dr. Chua recommended ways that the medical community could systemically change, including insurance companies refusing to cover these unnecessary prescriptions, or electronic health records and pharmacists prompting clinicians to choose an alternative when they attempt to prescribe opioids to children. Additionally, parents must be vigilant in keeping opioids in a secure location within the house, discontinuing use, and removing the drug from the home use as soon as the pain begins to fade. Proper drug removal locations can be found on the CDC and FDA’s website. 


As the opioid epidemic continues to rage, it is important that parents and medical professionals work together to prevent drug usage from starting early. However, if you are noticing a shift in behavior or the signs of opioid dependence in your child or young adult, it is never too early to consult Fritz Clinic. With over 35 years of healing expertise, Fritz Clinic provides your child with the tools that they need to heal from this dangerous habit and enjoy their youth. Call or contact Fritz Clinic today.