Children Hospitalized for Opioid Poisoning More than Doubles in 16 Years, Study Finds

Study found major increase from 1997 to 2012.

— -- As the opioid epidemic has continued to expand across the U.S., multitudes of children have been hospitalized for opioid-related poisonings, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Hospitalizations for prescription opioid-related poisonings increased a dramatic 165 percent, for children between the ages of 1 to 19, between 1997 and 2012, the researchers found.

The largest percentage increase in prescription opioid poisonings was among the youngest age group – 1- to 4-year-olds -- at 205 percent. The vast majority of these poisonings are unsupervised ingestions, where children get into a drug supply that belongs to a family member.

Prescription opioid poisoning among adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 increased 176 percent, according to the study.

Gaither said that she was "surprised to see the greatest increase was in young children."

She told ABC News that having opioids in the house is just like having a weapon present; they both have to be kept locked away from children and adolescents.

"Abuse and [the] associated heroin epidemic has touched every single segment of our society, even children 1 to 4," Volkow said.

In addition to higher rates of poisonings, researchers found that children are ingesting a diverse array of available opioids, including prescription medications and illicit drugs.

The increase in heroin abuse is particularly troubling because it can be contaminated with unknown substances or mixed with synthetic opioids that can be hundreds of times more potent then prescription medications, according to Dr. Bill Banner, President of the Board of the American Association of Poison Control Centers and a pediatric intensive care doctor at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

In Ohio and Massachusetts, carfentanil, an opioid created to sedate elephants, has been found mixed into heroin.

Illegal opioids are certainly not contained in child-resistant packaging.

Authorities will not be able to force "drug dealers to use child resistant packaging," Banner said.

Dr. Weller is a senior resident physician in internal medicine at Rutgers, New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey. He is a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.