Study: opioids leading cause of poisoning death in children 5 and under

by Jacob Fuller

Chris Lieberman, FISM News

In the nation’s continued opioid crisis, the youngest and most vulnerable members of society are increasingly becoming primary victims.

According to a study published in the medical journal “Pediatrics,” opioids were the leading cause of poisoning deaths in children 5 and under between 2005 and 2018, accounting for 47% of all fatalities. Poisonings from over-the-counter pain, cold, and allergy medications came in a distant second, at nearly 15%. The proportion of deaths due to opioids increased dramatically over the course of the study, making up 24% of deaths in 2005 compared to 52% in 2018.

“Our study highlights how the opioid epidemic has not spared our nation’s infants or young children,” said study co-author Dr. Christopher Gaw, a pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The study reviewed the causes and factors of 731 poisoning deaths reported in 40 states over the 14-year period. Of those cases, about 41% were determined to be accidental, while 18% were ruled intentional. Infants were the most vulnerable group, with 42% of fatalities being children less than 1 year old and nearly two-thirds of deaths being from children under 2.

Lack of adult supervision did not seem to be a major cause, with 81% of deaths occurring while the child was supervised by an adult. Of those cases, the adult was someone other than the child’s parent about one-third of the time.


Overall, poisoning deaths in young children have decreased dramatically since Congress passed the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in 1970, which required medications and other hazardous products to be stored in child-resistant packaging. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, poisoning fatalities in children 5 and under dropped from 216 in the year 1972 to an average of 24 per year from 2016-2018.

But while the overall number of poisoning deaths in young children is trending in the right direction, opioid deaths are still on the rise nationwide, and the study shows that young children are increasingly falling victim.


For families who have lost a child to opioids, studies like this are not numbers and statistics, but tragic reality. Take for example Boris and Lydie Lavenir, whose 19-month-old daughter died of an overdose while the family was staying in a Florida Airbnb on vacation.

The couple laid their daughter Enora down for a nap shortly after arriving at their rental near West Palm Beach. But hours later, they told the Washington Post that they found the infant’s face blue, with white foam covering her lips. Paramedics were unable to save the child, with toxicology finding a lethal dose of fentanyl in her system.

The Lavenirs are now suing Airbnb, the property owners, and the previous tenants for wrongful death, alleging that the prior renters used drugs on the property and that the owners were negligent in cleaning the property and leaving it drug-free.

“[Fentanyl] was in that house. I understand nobody would want to admit to that. I wouldn’t want to admit to killing a child either, but these folks did and they’re going to have to answer for it,” the family’s lawyer told Fox & Friends First.

The study highlights the importance of preventative measures to prevent pediatric poisonings, such as keeping medication and other hazardous substances kept safely away from kids, and parents and caregivers educating themselves on overdose prevention and symptoms. Gaw also recommended for communities to have access to naloxone, a nasal spray opioid antidote also known as narcan. Finally, caregivers who suspect a possible overdose should call the Poison Control Center hotline at 1-800-222-1222.