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Intentional Misuse of Drugs is a Form of Child Abuse


An under-recognized form of child abuse has been brought to light in a new report in the Journal of Pediatrics. Some children are the victims of intentional misuse of drugs, including sedatives, alcohol, painkillers, and other medications, which can result in serious consequences, including death.

Child abuse is typically classified into four categories: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Another type of abuse that is being inflicted on some children is the intentional abuse of drugs. Parents and other caregivers who abuse the use of drugs in children often do it as a form of punishment, amusement, or because they want a respite from taking care of the child. In some cases, for example, parents may give children sedatives or sleeping pills because they have been crying or throwing tantrums, or because the parents want to go out and have no one to take care of the children.

In the current study, Dr. Shan Yin from the University of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Poison Drug Center at Denver Health evaluated more than 1,400 cases of pharmaceutical abuse that had been reported to the National Poison Data System between 2000 and 2008. Dr. Yin included reports of intentional abuse of alcohol, painkillers, cough and cold medications, sedatives and sleeping pills, and antipsychotic drugs.

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An average of 160 cases of intentional drug abuse in children, including two deaths, was reported each year. Of the cases Dr. Yin reviewed, nearly 14 percent resulted in moderate to major health consequences, with some fatalities.

Child abuse is a major problem in the United States. According to ChildHelp, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States, although these reports can include multiple children. In 2007, approximately 5.8 million children were involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations.

Intentional misuse of drugs in children is a form of child abuse that has been overlooked. Dr. Yin encourages healthcare providers, especially pediatricians and emergency medical staff to be on the alert for this form of child abuse and suggests using a comprehensive drug screening whenever they suspect a child has been the victim of drug abuse.

National Institutes of Health
Yin S. Journal of Pediatrics DOI: 10.1016/jpeds.2010.05.040