Prescription opioid exposure among kids

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Every 45 minutes, poison control centers in the U.S. are getting a phone call about a child exposed to prescription opioids. The alarming number is part of findings from a new study in the journal Pediatrics.

There is one drug in particular right now that is concerning to these poison control centers. It's called Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone. It's used to treat heroin addiction. It's candy-like look and smell is very attractive to young children.

Crystal Yoak just celebrated three years of being clean after battling a heroin addiction. The mom of two young boys used Suboxone daily until about two months ago.

"It is orange, kind of smells like tang, but it's a very bitter taste," says Yoak.

The prescription often comes as a film that dissolves on your tongue. Crystal was warned right away by her doctor about the drug's dangers for curious kids.

"He stressed, you have children, you need to keep it put up, lock it up or put it up somewhere high."

Poison control centers answer 32 calls a day about children exposed to prescription opioids, and a new study finds these centers are seeing a spike in cases involving Suboxone.

"It's incredibly attractive to young children," says Henry Spiller of the Central Ohio Poison Center. He was one of the study's authors. He says 90% of the Suboxone incidents were kids under six years old accidentally taking it.

"To the small child, it looks like candy. It smells like candy, it has an orange smell and they just put it in their mouth. They don't know what it is," says Spiller.

It's incredibly dangerous. Half of the children exposed in this study required hospitalization.

"People are becoming more careless," adds Yoak.

Crystal always kept hers on a top shelf far out of reach. She encourages others to do the same and perhaps even get a lockbox.

It's the message Spiller has as well: "If they've got Suboxone, understand it may not seem all that potent to you from your heroin days, but it's incredibly potent to children and incredibly attractive."

Spiller says they have done education campaigns in the past, more specifically about prescription pain pills. He says there are signs that works. According to this 15 year study, since 2009, the number of exposures have gone down to most opioids. Not Buprenorphine though. That is the drug where they are seeing this alarming spike.

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