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Child maltreatment through drug or alcohol use

A large number of children are affected by one form or another of maltreatment. One study in the USA found evidence of abuse with psychotropic drugs, analgesics and cardiovascular drugs as well as illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine, metamphetamine).

An American study examined all the cases of children aged under 7 reported to poison centres between 2000 and 2008 which mentioned maltreatment with at least one drug or alcohol. During this period, 1439 reports in total were made, i.e. an average of 160 per year.

Half of the victims were aged under 2; in 57% of reports, they were boys.

In most of these maltreatment cases, the substance used was identified. Psychotropic drugs were found, as well as analgesics, illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine, metamphetamine), antihistamines, cardiovascular drugs, etc. In one case out of 10, the children were exposed to more than one drug. And in over half the cases, at least one sedative was involved. 18 children died.

Two factors emerged as being significantly linked with an increased mortality or a poor outcome: being aged under 2 and exposure to sedatives and several drugs.

It is unclear whether or not these results can be extrapolated to other countries.

©Prescrire 1 October 2011

"Drugs used in child maltreatment" Prescrire Int 2011; 20 (116): 236-237. (pdf, subscribers only)

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