Keeping medications to treat opioid dependence away from children is crucial

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The Aug. 21 article “Magee, Insurers Launch Recovery Center for Drug-Addicted Pregnant Women” highlights a new coordinated effort to address the important topic of treatment for opioid-dependent pregnant women. I want to raise an important safety concern not addressed in the article: the dangers posed by children’s accidentally ingesting prescribed medications like buprenorphine (Subutex) and buprenorphine/​naloxone (Suboxone).

Unlike methadone, which is distributed at registered facilities and is kept in lock boxes partly due to its danger to children, buprenorphine-containing medications are widely prescribed to patients and are kept in the home. Delivery forms of these drugs include strips and tablets that dissolve in the mouth. These features increase convenience for adults, but also create a significant risk to curious young children in the home setting.

Buprenorphine-containing medications have a major sedative effect, and ingestion can interfere with breathing in children. As a pediatrician in the Pittsburgh area, I have personal experience treating children who have ingested buprenorphine-containing medications. Some of the children could have died without medical intervention, and there are reports of child fatalities from these medications when taken accidentally.

As the use of buprenorphine-containing medications grows, patients must understand the risk that these medications pose to young children. Manufacturers should ensure that medications are distributed in child-safe containers and are not produced in forms that are appealing to children. In homes with young children, medications should be kept in lock boxes for storage.



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