CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Drugs are falling into the hands of children at an alarming rate and it's leading to more opioid overdoses and hospitalizations than ever before.
"The sooner the brain is tampered with, the earlier the chances are for them to become addicted," said Anita Bradley, Northern Ohio Recovery Association executive director.
Bradley sees the opioid epidemic firsthand every day and is still stunned by this study.
"It's just very scary and it's alarming and it just lets me know there's a lot of work that still needs to be done," she said.
According to the study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, between 2004 and 2015, more than 3,600 children were hospitalized for opioid overdoses.
Researchers said 43 percent of the kids ended up in the ICU and close to 2 percent of those kids died.
Bradley said even small amounts of drug use can be detrimental to kids.
"They don't really get a chance to normalize because it takes the body a long time to grow up, the brain to finish forming, and those things, so when you add a substance on top of that it just takes away the opportunity of the real, natural growth to happen," she said.
The kids in the study range in age from 1 to 17. Researchers said some children accidentally stumbled into their parent's medication and others intentionally took drugs.
"I think parents need to pay attention. They need to know what's in their medicine cabinets. If their child has a minor surgery, toothache, something like that, monitor medication," said Bradley.
She said the only way we can bring overdose numbers down is by working together to take control of the opioid crisis in our community.
The research analyzed data from the Pediatric Health Information System, which is gathered from 31 hospitals nationwide.
The study comes at a time when opioid use among adults has reached epidemic proportions.
According to the CDC, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016.