Accidental Needle Sticks and the Opioid Epidemic: is your child at risk?

Perhaps you’ve heard that we are in the midst of the “opioid epidemic.”  But do you know what that means for your child?

What is the opioid epidemic?

Many people in this country have become addicted to pain killers (opioids).  According to the NIH, more than 90 Americans die every day after an opioid overdose. Some people taking prescription pain killers will eventually turn to heroin (also an opioid).  For more information on the details of this crisis and how it came about, read this article.

Why does it matter to me and my kids?

There are three main reasons this should worry you (aside from the fact that it is a terrifying public health crisis).

  1.  Your children are at risk of becoming addicted themselves.  Many of you will speed read right on past this, because this doesn’t happen in my family.  But trust me, there are countless parents out there who had that same thought, and are now fighting for their kids’ lives.  This is beyond the scope of this article, but for more information, read:
  2. Your children are at risk of being exposed to opioids, either by exposure to pills, powders, beverages, or needles.  So, now, before you send your child to a new home for a playdate, you have to ask about guns, marijuana edibles (at least in the states where it’s now legal), and opioids.
  3. Accidental needle sticks. Getting poked by a used needle exposes your child to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.  All of these can be chronic diseases.  All of these can be fatal.

How can we avoid needle sticks?

There are needles lying around.  Everywhere.  If you haven’t seen one, consider yourself lucky.  Get online, and find some pictures of heroin needles.  Show your kids.  If you’re unfortunate enough to walk by them daily or weekly, make sure you point them out to your kids, every time.  They can’t avoid them if they don’t know what they look like.  And they won’t report a stick to you if they don’t know it’s a problem.  As sad as it is, my kids have known about needles since they could walk.

Keep your eyes peeled.  Check sandboxes before your kids go in. I happen to love letting my kids run free, but many times I limit their climbing / crawling / exploring if I think a needle could be present.  Don’t assume that because you’re in a small town or a ritzy neighborhood, there are no needles.  It’s unfortunate, but true.

What to do if someone is stuck by a needle…

Wash wash wash.  Wash the wound thoroughly with warm soapy water.

Load up and go to the ER (after you wash the wound thoroughly – DON’T SKIP THIS STEP!).  Call ahead if you can.  (Some primary care offices might deal with this in office, but if you want to go that route, call and get an immediate answer.  Do not wait for them to call you back because this needs to be dealt with ASAP.)

At the ER, providers will want to know if your child is up to date on the following vaccines: Tetanus, Hepatitis B, and probably Hepatitis A.  (A good reminder to always know the status of your kids’ vaccinations.)  If you don’t know for sure that your child is up to date, the vaccines will most likely be given to be on the safe side.

The rest of the visit will be spent discussing Hepatitis B and C and HIV, deciding what to test for (there will be a blood draw), whether to do “post-exposure prophylaxis” for HIV (medications to prevent the development of HIV) and how to manage the case going forward.  Note that there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, nor is there prophylactic treatment to prevent it.  If your child is immune to Hepatitis B, no treatment is needed to prevent that disease.  If your child is not immune, he will be given a Hepatitis B vaccine as well as Hepatitis B antibodies (obtained from donors’ blood; this is a blood borne product).

One final note…

As you know, here at Naturopathic Pediatrics we promote the Knowledge-Based approach to supporting families in making decisions about vaccines. This means that we give families unbiased information and support them regardless of their decision how/when to vaccinate.  We know that our patients and readers are judicious in their use of vaccines, and may skip or delay those they feel are not needed at the time.  Full disclosure: I delayed the Hepatitis B vaccine series for my kids thinking it was unnecessary at the time.  Once I realized how many needles are in my neighborhood, I took them both in and completed the series as quickly as I could.  It was a risk factor I had overlooked.  I’m eternally grateful that I got the series completed in both boys before a needle stick occurred.  Obviously I do everything I can to prevent sticks, but now, if one happens, I have one less worry.

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