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Study: Opioids are killing more children and teens each year

Almost 9,000 children died from opioid poisoning between 1999 and 2016, researchers report.

More children and teenagers are dying from opioid poisoning each year, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers report that 8,986 children and adolescents died between 1999 and 2016, and the mortality rate nearly triple in that period.

"The vast increase in the recent years is most alarming," said Stephanie Peglow, EVMS addiction psychiatrist. "While it still doesn't rival the adult population numbers, it's still really scary that what we're seeing in adults is traveling downstream to children."

Peglow said it is frustrating to know the health messaging and warnings haven't slowed the increase in opioid deaths among youth. 

"It's disheartening to know that we know prevention works and we know treatment works yet we just haven't quite found the right answer," she said.

The JAMA study says pediatric and family-centered interventions are necessary to slow the rise. 

Peglow says Virginia's expansion of treatment and prevention programs is needed for adolescents.

"As a state we've spent a lot of money opening up access to treatment and that's been immeasurably helpful and wonderful, but there aren't a lot of options for teenagers," she said. 

In December, the Centers for Disease Control named fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, the 'deadliest drug in America,' responsible for almost a third of all overdose deaths in the country. 

True to her profession, Peglow said more investment in treatment could solve a lot of problems.

"If we as a country could think about treatment and prevention as our primary goals, we could potentially end the opioid epidemic," she said. 

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