Sleeping pills, cough syrup, laxatives harm 160 children a year, study says
Parents and caregivers who slip young, healthy children doses of common drugs — including painkillers, sedatives and laxatives — are fueling a dangerous but hidden form of child abuse, new research finds.
About 160 kids are hurt in the United States each year — and at least two die — after being forced to ingest antidepressants, cough and cold medicines, even drugs to treat high blood pressure. Many are given alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, according to the first large-scale study of the issue published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“We believe that the malicious use of pharmaceuticals may be an under-recognized form and or component of child maltreatment,” said Dr. Shan Yin, who led the study conducted at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver.
Yin, a medical toxicologist, analyzed more than 21.4 million calls to the National Poison Data System between 2000 and 2008. When he looked at cases of drug and alcohol poisoning coded as “malicious” in children younger than 7, Shin found 1,439 cases of kids who’d been exposed. Some 172 children were seriously injured and 18 died.
They included a 4-month-old girl killed in 2003 when a babysitter gave her a full bottle of decongestant, and a 5-year-old girl who died in 2006 after her mother gave her antidepressants and muscle relaxants.
“I just don’t know what goes on in the minds of people who try to harm their child,” said Yin, an emergency room doctor who has treated cases of abuse.
Parents may be angry, frustrated
Poison center records don’t include motives for the poisonings, said Yin. But he speculates that known causes for child abuse — punishment, frustration with the demands of parenting — may play a role in drug-induced harm.
“There’s a very wide spectrum, from frank homicides to people who are not trying to hurt their children,” he said. “Maybe they want them to go to sleep for an hour so they can go to sleep or go shopping.”
In some cases, an adult’s warped sense of amusement at seeing a child intoxicated could be the motivation.
by JoNel Aleccia, Health writer - MSNBC 07/22/2010