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Study Reports Half of Pediatric Opioid Prescriptions Are ‘High Risk’

Children and young adults who experience pain from routine dental care or oral surgery are frequently exposed to unsafe opioid prescriptions, according to a study led by University of Michigan researchers. Appearing in Pediatrics, the paper, “Opioid Prescribing to U.S. Children and Young Adults in 2019,” is based on data from the IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database. The team analyzed approximately 4 million opioid prescriptions written to children and young adults (< 21) in 2019. Prescriptions were considered high risk if they exceeded the recommended supply or dose, or included a drug or combination of drugs not recommended for this patient population. 

“Our study suggests children and young adults are frequently exposed to unsafe opioid prescriptions, increasing their risk of overdose, misuse, and addiction,” notes lead author Kao-Ping Chua, MD, PhD, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center.

The most common type of high-risk prescriptions were those for treating acute pain or that exceeded recommended dosing schedules. Overall, 46% of prescriptions were deemed high risk. Among opioid prescriptions for patients ages 12 to 21, approximately 12% were considered high risk because they exceeded the recommended daily dose of opioids. Additionally, researchers report one in six prescriptions dispensed to children ages 1 to 11 included codeine or tramadol. 

“Reducing opioid prescriptions could substantially lower opioid exposure in children and young adults,” the researchers concluded.

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