A new U.S. study has found that malicious use of drugs on children by their parents or caregivers is an under-recognized problem and should be classified as a form of child abuse. Dr. Shan Yin from the University of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Poison Drug Center investigated the prevalence of the national problem over an eight-year period and are encouraging officials and medical professionals to take this form of child abuse into higher consideration. Dr. Yin’s report on the study, “The Malicious Use of Pharmaceuticals in Children,” is to be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.
Using the National Poison Data System, Dr. Yin and his team discovered 1,439 cases involving the administration of pharmaceuticals and other substances to children with malicious intent had occurred between 2000 and 2008. The type of substances involved in the reports ranged from the abusive use of alcohol, painkillers, cough and cold medications, antipsychotics, and sedatives and sleep medications. Of these cases, more than half involved the use of at least one sedative; 14% resulted in moderate to severe injury of the child, including a total of 18 deaths; 17 of the 18 deaths were linked to the use of sedatives. An average of 160 cases, including two deaths, was reported each year. The researchers believe that even more incidents of illicit drug use on children in the U.S. go unreported.
The study was not able to research the specific motives behind each incident and the legal proceedings that occurred as a result of these reports, but Dr. Yin states that the malicious use of drugs on children can involve varying motives. Of the 18 deaths reported, however, Dr. Yin did discover that four of them were ruled as homicides, three resulted in legal action against the mother, two were classified as highly suspicious, and one involved the use of cocaine. Parents or caregivers possibly may have used drugs on their children as a form of punishment, amusement, or sedation to relieve them of childcare.
Earlier this year, a mother from Massachusetts was found guilty of murdering her 4-year-old daughter after having administered the child lethal levels of a hypertension drug used to treat ADHD in children, according to CNN. The mother was sentenced to life in prison while her husband was tried separately and eventually convicted of first-degree murder for his participation in the death. According to the prosecution, the couple used the drug to sedate their child in the hope of silencing her. CNN also reported on a child daycare administrator who was found guilty of murdering a 1-year-old child after having administered a lethal amount of cough medicine to help the child fall asleep in 2005. Anytime a pharmaceutical drug is used outside of its prescribed purposes, adults run the risk of putting their children in danger, even death.
Over one million cases of child abuse or neglect occur in the U.S. each year; child abuse is considered a national health epidemic. In conclusion of his research, Dr. Yin suggests that the malicious use of drugs on children should be classified as a significant form of child abuse. Presently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognize four distinct categories of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse. Under the current categorization, it is hard to determine where abusive drug use on children would fall under, yet Dr. Yin recommends that pediatricians and health officials incorporate the practice of comprehensive drug-screening in their examinations of children suspected of being victims of abuse or neglect.
Sources: Medical News Today, Catherine Paddock, PhD, Abusing Children With Drugs Under Recognized, US Study, July 22, 2010
CNN, Madison Park, Drugging kids for parents’ relief called abusive, July 22, 2010