- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2023

Unintended poisoning deaths surged among toddlers in 2021 due to adults’ increased consumption of narcotics and hallucinogens at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to federal data released Wednesday.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 59 children under age 5 died of unintentional poisoning in 2021, up 37% from 43 deaths in 2020 and more than 73% from 34 deaths in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. That marks the first time since 2005-07 that the number of toddlers dying of poison increased annually for three straight years.

The increase in deaths came as the overall number of toddlers treated for poisoning in emergency rooms increased by just 1.8%, from 61,500 children in 2020 to 62,600 in 2021 — both down significantly from 67,500 injuries in 2019 as more people avoided medical treatment during the pandemic.

“Sadly, this report shows the work that still needs to be done to protect children,” said Alexander Hoehn-Saric, chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Nearly 8 out of 10 poisonings occurred in the home.”

Although the safety commission did not explain the cause of the surges, the sharp drop in emergency room treatments from 2019 to 2020 occurred after hospitals limited admissions to essential surgeries during COVID lockdowns.

Even as hospitals reopened and poisoning treatments ticked up slightly in 2021, doctors widely reported that many patients kept avoiding hospitals that year, partly out of fear of catching the coronavirus.

The sharp rise in poisoning deaths from 2019 to 2020 and 2021 likewise occurred as many daycare centers remained shuttered, drug addictions surged and more Americans stayed home with their children to work remotely.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission report, the rise in toddlers dying of poisoning from 2019 to 2021 came from a surge in deaths due to narcotics and hallucinogens as well as “other and unspecified drugs …and biological substances.”  

The report said blood pressure medications, acetaminophen, antidepressants, laundry packets and bleach were the five products most involved in unintentional pediatric poisonings.

And the highest rate of pediatric poisoning deaths occurred among Black toddlers, who represent 21.4% of deaths despite being 15.8% of the national population.

Safety commission officials urged parents to lock down hazards around the house to protect small children.

“Please take the time to store cleaning supplies, laundry packets, button batteries, and drugs out of children’s reach or in locked cabinets. If you see it lying around, a child can grab and swallow it,” Mr. Hoehn-Saric said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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