Young children ingesting illicit substances rose after Covid-19 outbreak, study shows

New research shows that kids under 6 years old are ingesting drugs and alcohol because of the pandemic.

Young children ingesting illicit substances rose after Covid-19 outbreak, study shows


A new study indicates that the outbreak of Covid-19 posed many dangers to children. Increased illicit substance consumption was one of them.

According to a study published in JAMA Network Open on Friday, in the first month following the pandemic of 2020, the number of children aged under six years in the United States increased by 25%.

The study found that these numbers increased by 1,8% per month compared to before the pandemic.

The immediate and sustained rise in opioids consumption occurred at a time when adult overdoses were at their highest level ever, and was largely attributed to synthetic opioids. Lead study author Dr. Brittany Raffa is a clinical professor of pediatrics at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a primary care research fellow with the National Research Service Award.

The study examined data on 7,659 children aged under 6 years who were treated at 46 hospitals for the ingestion of amphetamines and benzodiazepines as well as cannabis, cocaine, alcohol, and opioids.

Dr. James Dodington is associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. He said, "This study is important, as it clearly indicates the elevated and ongoing risk of drug and liquor ingestion for young children." Dodington did not take part in the study.

The study concluded that more research is needed to determine why the ingestion of substances by children has increased. It also recommended identifying interventions aimed at improving parental mental health and providing substance treatment services.

Raffa wrote in an email that 'families were left with inadequate child supervision as most childcare centers and school closed or virtually virtual (during early pandemic)'. As stress levels and substance abuse by parents increased, mental health and substance use treatment facilities were affected.

Dodington stated, "Notably, cannabis and opioid intake are at an all-time high, and this study indicates the need for more comprehensive strategies to prevent childhood ingestion."

Danielle Ompad is a professor of epidemiology and public health at New York University. She said that the substances consumed by children in the pandemic were similar to those that adults appeared to be using more. Ompad did not participate in the study.

Dodington said that the results could be affected if healthcare providers are on alert for ingestions.

He said that 'given the increased opioid and cannabis usage across the US healthcare providers are testing more frequently for children and we could be detecting an increase in ingestions'.

Ompad cautioned that, as concerning as the ingestions may be, there is no information about where they occurred. Therefore, parents and caregivers should not be blamed.

Secure storage

Dodington stated that young children are at particular risk of harm from consuming alcohol and drugs.

In a CNN article from 2021, Dr. Brian Johnston, executive committee member of American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poisoning Prevention, stated that a single edible marijuana product could contain several times the adult-recommended dose of THC.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation.

Johnston, an expert who wasn't involved in the study, said that anyone who consumes these products, especially children, can experience adverse effects, such as intoxication and altered perception. Other symptoms include anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia or a feeling of weakness.

Dodington stated that researchers and policymakers must take action to educate parents and guardians on the dangers of ingestion and to support them.

Along with mental health and substance abuse interventions, education efforts must focus on safe storage, especially for edibles.

Ompad says that people who live with children or are visited by them should avoid storing drugs in their homes or places where they can be accessed by young ones.

She added that if you use drugs at home and store them, be sure to lock them up and keep them in a safe or childproof container when there are children around.

Ompad stated that 'this is especially true for edible cannabis or any other drugs that look like sweets or food -- they are very tempting to children'.