Sunday, July 9, 2017

Opioid epidemic linked to rise in 'unsafe sleep' deaths of infants

Kentucky's opioid epidemic is increasingly leading not just to the deaths of drug users, but of infants put into "unsafe sleep" situations by users, reports Deborah Yetter of The Courier-Journal.

"A 4-month-old Bell County boy died after falling off the mattress where he had been sleeping with an adult using opioids," Yetter writes. "In Mason County, a 6-week-old girl was found blue and not breathing in bed with her uncomprehending mother. . . . The baby had suffered at birth from drug withdrawal; after her death, the mother tested positive for marijuana, opioids and methamphetamine."

Yetter notes that babies "should never sleep anywhere other than alone, on their backs and in a crib free of blankets or pillows."

The state's Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel has examined about 20 such cases in the past year, but is seeing only a fraction of the likely cases, a member of the panel, University of Louisville forensic pediatrician Melissa Currie, told Yetter, who notes, "Infant sleep deaths linked to abuse or neglect have doubled since 2014."

"As many as 100 Kentucky infants die each year from what's classified as Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, or SUID — often linked to suffocation when a sleeping infant's airway is obstructed," Yetter reports. "But most of such SUID deaths are not reported to or investigated by state social service officials as abuse or neglect and thus are never referred to the outside panel for review."

Dr. Lori Devlin, a neonatologist with Norton Children's Hospital and U of L, told Yetter, "We've got more and more women of childbearing age who are using opioids. It's making the whole thing a little bit scary."

I the past year, the state panel has also reviewed about a dozen cases "in which small children almost died after ingesting drugs found in their homes, including a toddler who had to be revived with the opioid overdose drug naloxone," Yetter reports.

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