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Medications in Drug Treatment: Tackling the risks to children – one year on

24 Nov 2015

Adfam has published Medications in Drug Treatment: Tackling the risks to children – one year on, a new research report on the risks of opioid substitution therapy (OST) medications to children.

Our research has revealed that far more children than previously thought are dying and being hospitalised after ingesting medications prescribed to treat their parents’ drug addiction.

The report, which will be launched tonight in the House of Lords, builds on Adfam’s previous work on this topic, looking at progress made in the last year, providing updated statistics and information, and giving recommendations to practitioners and policymakers on how to reduce risk and the incidence of these tragic occurrences.

Our research found that in the ten years to 2013, at least 110 children and teenagers aged 18 and under in the UK died from the toxic effects of opioid substitution therapy (OST) medications used primarily to help people overcome heroin addiction. In this time, at least 328 children in England were hospitalised and diagnosed with methadone poisoning. Of the 73 deaths in England and Wales, only seven resulted in Serious Case Reviews.

Since Adfam first reported on this tragic phenomenon in 2014, these cases have continued to occur, with at least three new Serious Case Reviews in the last year. Whilst in many cases children consumed the medications accidentally, some were deliberately given them by their parents in a misguided attempt to help soothe or send them to sleep. The mortality statistics also show the majority of fatal poisonings involve older, rather than younger children – but little is known about how or why these incidents occur.

Vivienne Evans OBE, Adfam Chief Executive, said: “The lessons from previous tragic cases have not been heeded, and a year after we called attention to the issue, children are still dying. The vast majority of parents prescribed these medications will use them safely and appropriately – but the number of children now identified as having been harmed lends the issue even greater urgency. Systemic and cultural failure means services are still not working closely enough to safeguard vulnerable children.”

Download the full report, an executive summary, and the press release here:

Full report (pdf)

Executive summary (pdf)

Press release (pdf)