Wednesday, June 12, 2024


“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

— William Wilberforce


More Young Children Ingested Drugs and Illicit Substances During COVID Pandemic Period

little girl holding pills

A new study published in  the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows an increase in ingestion of illicit substances such as cannabis, opioids and ethanol among children under six years old in the COVID-19 pandemic period compared with the pre-pandemic period.1

“This is an important study, with a clear indication of the ongoing and elevated risk of drug and alcohol ingestions for young children in the U.S.,” said James Dodington, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine.2

COVID Public Health Policies Presented Serious Challenges to Families

COVID public health policies created many challenges for families and their children. Within the first year of the pandemic, over two-thirds of childcare facilities closed; more than 90 percent of schools switched to virtual learning; more than one-third of adults began working from home, and 18 million adults became unemployed.3

During this period of time, the highest level of adult drug overdose deaths from synthetic opioids was reported in U.S. history. At the same time, children younger than six years old accounted for the majority of illicit substance ingestions with more than 99 percent being unintentional. The presence of illicit drugs in a home that is not stored safety away from young children can be dangerous, having the potential to be fatal.4

Danielle Ompad, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at New York University, said that the type of ingestions that increased in children was similar to substances that appear to have been more frequently used by adults during the pandemic.5

Brittany Raffa, MD, lead researcher in the study, said:

Families were left without adequate child supervision with most childcare centers and schools closed or virtual (during the early part of the pandemic). As overall stress and parental substance use increased, substance use treatment centers and mental health care were disrupted.6

Ingestion of Illicit Substances Increased 25 Percent for Kids Under Six

The study published in JAMA used a sample of 7,659 children under the age of six at 46 tertiary care children’s hospitals within the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS). Participants were seen at a PHIS hospital for an illicit substance ingestion between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2021.7

Findings from the study show that there was a 25.6 percent immediate increase in illicit substance ingestions during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 with a 1.8 percent monthly increase after that when compared to pre-pandemic levels. The study notes that the increases in ingestion have no association to the legalization of medicinal or recreational cannabis.8

Some researchers say that the findings could be skewed if health care professionals were actively looking out for substance ingestions. James Dodington, MD stated:

Given the increase in opioid and cannabis use across the U.S., health care providers may be testing more often for children, and we may be detecting a greater number of ingestions.9

The study researchers note that even though the pandemic emergency declaration is over, hybrid work schedules, health care worker shortages, insufficient mental health and substance use centers, and costly childcare options is still a problem due to pandemic public health policies that must be addressed to avoid continued illicit substance ingestions among children.10

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One Response

  1. It appears all reference point to the same study.
    If the ingestion was accident, did other poisoning increase??

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