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Child Methadone Deaths Through Negligence
A Utah mom puts some of her methadone in a Gatorade bottle, then forgets it contains methadone and pours some into a sippy cup for her three kids including her 2-year-old son. After he passes out she calls 911. The two older kids are saved at the ER. But it’s too late for the 2-year-old.
Charge: Second-degree felony child abuse homicide, one to 15 years behind bars at the Utah State Prison.
A New York woman visits friends in Ohio, gives some of her methadone to the friends’ 3-year-old “to help it sleep.” The child suffers cardiac arrest, spends 4 years in and out of hospital slowly dying, and finally passes away.
Charge: Murder, upgraded from original child endangering. Pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter, gets 10 more years tacked onto original sentence of 5.
An Alabama mother somehow – details are sketchy – feeds a fatal dose of methadone to her 3-year-old, killing the child. She lives in a pretty small community, the shocking story is all over the news.
Charge: Chemical endangerment of a child, in jail awaiting trial and sentencing.
It seems as if every month or two, we read about the tragic death of an infant or child from methadone poisoning. And it’s always because of negligence on the part of a parent or a guardian, or as in the Ohio case, a visiting friend.
We’re using the word ‘negligence,’ the legal term, but it doesn’t really explain what is really criminal dereliction of parental care and duty – or more often, outright stupidity.
Should child methadone deaths be called ‘accidental’?
Leaving a toxic poison around where kids can find it isn’t an accident. If a child finds it and swallows it, that tragedy isn’t an accident by any stretch. It’s always criminal negligence, child endangerment, 2nd degree homicide, or some other serious felony charge for the parent or guardian.
But blaming the parents is only part of the story. The so-called authorities should be shouldering much of the blame for allowing such a potentially dangerous situation exist.
First of all, the doctors, the cops, the courts, the media, all the authorities who by now should know better, are not doing anyone any favors by calling these tragedies accidents.
As long as a parent wasn’t intending the child to die, then yes, it’s technically an accidental death. But calling these preventable tragedies accidents does not address the actual problem – the parental negligence and lack of knowledge and responsibility.
Using the term accident diminishes the lack of responsibility and sheer stupidity of those responsible.
We can’t go on calling these deaths accidental and expect anything to change – not when everyone knows how dangerous methadone is if it’s misused, even fractionally misused as in the case of infants. Not when everyone knows that opioids are psychoactive and can cause blurry thinking, forgetfulness and even temporary blackouts.
It’s well known that almost anyone habitually consuming opioids, including methadone, is a risk to everyone around them – especially little kids.
Yet we continue to hand out methadone to people who are expected to care for infants and children. And that’s not an accident, either.
Study finds methadone deaths highest in the USA
A 2012 US study found that methadone “is a dangerous drug for children, because ingestion of tiny amounts can lead to death.”
We don’t need a study to tell us that. All anyone needs to know is how to sit down and read the news once in a while.
But the study also pointed out that child methadone deaths in the US outnumber every other country studied. Of 62 cases studied, 26 were reported in the US, 12 cases in the UK, six in France, five in China, four in Canada, two in Germany, one in Switzerland, one in Italy, one in Austria, one in Portugal, one in Poland, one in Slovakia and one in Malaysia.
Every one of those countries uses a lot of methadone, and for all the same reasons we do. The use of methadone here in the US may be greater per capita than in other countries. But the rate of accidental child deaths, because of methadone misuse, dwarfs those other countries.
Does that mean American opioid addicts are stupider, less caring, less responsible?
At this point, that’s anyone’s guess. Maybe we need another study to answer that question.
How methadone kills kids
One of the commonest causes of methadone poisoning of children is careless storage. Someone leaves the methadone on the coffee table or kitchen counter, the child sees the interesting red or green stuff mommy takes every day and decides to give it a taste.
The other, more despicable cause, is the intentional feeding of methadone to kids for any reason whatsoever. And there’s a lot more of that than you might think.
People continue to give methadone to kids who are teething, need help to sleep, are cranky or out of sorts, on and on. Well, there’s no valid reason for anyone who’s not an experienced physician to give opiates to infants and children. None. Ever.
Like almost all opioids, methadone toxicity is characterized by respiratory depression, central nervous system depression and ‘miosis’ – constriction of the pupils. If a child who ingests methadone is exceedingly lucky, a responsible and aware adult will be present, will recognize the symptoms of methadone poisoning and dial 911 immediately.
If the dose is more than very tiny, and it’s not swiftly treated, the symptoms can rapidly progress to respiratory collapse, coma and death.
It’s better if the adult knows all about methadone and also all about CPR. They can try to keep the child alive until the ambulance arrives with naloxone, oxygen and real medical know-how.
Naloxone is the drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Ambulance crews and police forces almost all carry it as a standard treatment for opioid overdose.
And it’s best of all if the adult knows all of the above and also has naloxone in the house and knows how to use it on infants and children.
What can we do about it?
A fatal dose is always a threat when methadone is involved with infants because it’s so toxic. Nothing short of immediate naloxone is helpful. In spite of the presence of an aware, educated and capable adult, a child can proceed rapidly into coma, and death occurs before an EMT crew can arrive.
Methadone poisoning or overdose can be reduced, if not eliminated, through education and better control of the drug.
But when drugs like methadone are involved, it stands to reason that there always will be someone not tracking in present time. So some danger will always exist until such drugs are eliminated from all homes.
Here are some of the things everyone involved should consider:
- Educate methadone users on what the drug does and how fast it can kill kids
- Provide closer, more frequent on-going supervision of methadone consumption
- Only dispense take-home methadone in child-safe bottles and insist it stays there
- Ensure that methadone is stored in a safe place at home, beyond the view and reach of kids.
There are other things that could also help. But what’s required is an official determination to put these things effectively in place.
Of course, the best thing of all is to get rid of methadone maintenance therapy completely:
- Decide to get everyone off controversial methadone maintenance programs as soon as possible
- Replace it with something that actually makes sense – gentle and effective medical detox and a lengthy and effective rehabilitation leading to a drug-free life.
Now who doesn’t want that? So why don’t we all try to make it happen?
Enter the Novus Medical Detox magic
The Novus Medical Detox protocols actually set people up physically with a much better chance of winning in rehab. It does this by making them healthier – often healthier than before they started taking drugs. Health means strength – mental as well as physical – and that’s what’s really needed to beat addiction.
And good news for high-dose methadone patients.
Novus is one of the few detox facilities that accepts patients on high-dosage methadone. This is a real problem for thousands of people on methadone maintenance programs who have found it almost impossible to get off the drug, leading to increased dosages. Methadone is worse by far to get off than the heroin or the pain pills they’ve been trying to beat with methadone.
Novus makes getting off methadone a reality.
The bottom line is this: If you or someone you care is on methadone and wants to get off it, don’t hesitate to call Novus. We are the methadone experts, and we’re always here to help.
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