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Research Letter
April 13, 2020

Potential Emerging Risks Among Children Following Parental Opioid-Related Overdose Death

Author Affiliations
  • 1Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2Allegheny County Health Department, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 3Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(5):503-504. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0613

The incidence of unexpected deaths from opioid overdoses sharply increased in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in recent years. In 2017 alone, the county’s opioid-related overdose rate was 51.5 per 100 000, more than triple the US rate (14.9 per 100 000). This represented more than 90% of all unintentional overdoses.

The opioid epidemic is also affecting families and, most importantly, children. People who died of an overdose were most frequently between age 25 to 54 years and in their child-rearing years. Substance use in the household is considered an adverse childhood experience and is associated with health risks and disease in adulthood.1 A recent longitudinal study found that bereavement by sudden parental death was associated with an increased incidence of depression, primarily during the first 2 years, along with posttraumatic stress disorder and functional impairment.2 Yet, little is known about the number of children who experienced these losses.

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