Study: Half of pediatric opioid prescriptions are ‘high risk’

GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) — In 2019, four million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to U.S. patients ages 0-21. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 46% were at high risk.

These prescriptions were labeled “high risk” due to potential adverse effects such as overdose. Dentists and surgeons wrote 61% of the prescriptions.

The study also found that a small group of prescribers in the top 5% of prescriptions account for half of all opioid prescriptions for children and young adults and half of high-risk prescriptions. Prescriptions that exceeded a recommended stock or dose or contained a drug or combination of drugs not recommended for children were considered high risk.

“Our study suggests that children and young adults are often exposed to unsafe prescriptions for opioids, increasing their risk of overdose, abuse and addiction,” said lead author Kao-Ping Chua, MD, Ph.D., a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Groningen. University of Michigan Health CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center.

The most common types of high-risk opioids prescribed were those for acute pain, which lasted longer than three or seven days. About 1 in 6 opioid prescriptions given to young children were for codeine or tramadol, both not recommended in this age group.

The study authors hope this research may lead to consideration of alternatives in prescribing pain medications, and suggest that insurers could refuse to cover codeine or tramadol prescriptions for young children.

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