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A Terrifying New Victim of the Opioid Crisis: Toddlers

Summit County, Ohio is experiencing what may arguably be the most horrifying effect of this country's desperate opioid problem: toddlers are succumbing to overdoses due to not knowing the difference between candy and heroin, or another drug that is just as dangerous.

On Tuesday night, a one-year-old boy from Akron apparently overdosed on opioids and was revived with naloxone at Akron Children's Hospital. Naloxone is the generic name for the drug that reverses opioid effects. It remains unclear how the child got ahold of the opioids in the first place, however he is the third toddler in Akron to have overdosed on them so far this year.

Summit County Children Services has confirmed handling five cases in which children 3 years old or younger were exposed to opioids. Four of the toddlers survived, but unfortunately, 1.5 year-old Tymaine Thompson was not one of them. Tymaine died this past Sunday, three days after being exposed to some kind of opiate at his home in West Hill. Similarly, a 6 year-old girl overdosed in March after ingesting an opiate of some sort. She was revived, according to Akron police, with two doses of naloxone.

This is an incredibly scary increase in numbers from last year, when Akron saw only one case of a child being exposed to opiates, and that child was significantly older. Andrew Frye was 16 years old when he succumbed to a fatal heroin overdose at a motel in Green, where his mother and friend were also using the drug. Frye's grandmother was their supplier. This case attracted national attention because of the family's being so intertwined insofar as using and supplying the drug, but Frye was old enough to understand what he was doing. The toddlers who are now being exposed to the drug? Not so much.

Dr. Sarah Friebart of Akron Children's Hospital hit the nail on the head: toddlers are particularly vulnerable during this epidemic because they are always crawling, exploring, putting things in their mouths, and seeing things under furniture or at lower levels than adults may notice. The number of children who are at risk of an accidental overdose is unclear at the moment, but thousands of children across the country are hospitalized yearly due to prescription opioid poisonings, according to a study published in 2016 by Yale University, as well as hospital discharge records going back to 2000.

Per the study, surprisingly – and unsettlingly – the toddler demographic has been the hardest hit during the prescription opioid crisis, with hospitalizations related to opioids more than doubling between the years of 1997 and 2012. The author of the study, Julie Gaither, admitted that while it is clear that this is, in fact, happening, no one knows why for sure. Going by the anecdotes of those who have been involved in these situations, it is less often that children are accidentally getting into their parents' medicine bottles, so how exactly are they consuming these drugs? Gaither is conducting another survey to find out why, the findings of which are due to be published sometime next year.