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Fentanyl-related deaths in children under 5 increased 500% in Missouri last year

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(The Center Square) – The number of fentanyl-related child deaths in Missouri nearly doubled in 2022, and deaths of children under age 5 increased by more than 500%, according to the Department of Social Services.

The department announced the publication of the “Missouri Child Fatality Review Program Annual Report for 2022” on Monday. In addition to the alarming increase in deaths from poisonings and fatalities related to fentanyl, it reported a significant increase in infant sleep-related fatalities.

The deaths of 43 children were linked to fentanyl or with a mixture of the drug with other drugs, the report stated. Of the 43, fatalities, 20 were under age 5 and 20 were between 15 and 17.

The fentanyl spike is leading the Child Fatality Review Program to create a subcommittee to “take a deep dive across the executive state departments and make recommendations around preventing these tragedies and how Missouri can amplify those efforts.”

“As children become mobile and enter a phase of development where they are explorers of their environments it is especially important for caregivers to make sure that all medications and substances are locked up and out of reach,” Dr. Terra Frazier, chair of the State Child Abuse and Neglect Review Panel and the associate program director for the Child Abuse Pediatrics Fellowship Program at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, said in a statement. “Many caregivers underestimate what children will find and put in their mouth. With many poisons, help can be sought once it is known that an ingestion occurred. However, fentanyl is so potent and dangerous for young children that by the time a caregiver realizes what has happened it may be too late.”

The report also found 74% of all infants who died from non-medical causes were related to their sleep environment. Sleep-related suffocation was the cause of death for 79 infants in Missouri in 2022, a 22% increase from 2021.

“Losing even one infant to a preventable cause is tragic,” Robert Knodell, director of the Department of Social Services, said in a statement. “We recognize that parenting an infant can be stressful and overwhelming. Parents are often looking for any way they can to soothe their child. However, it is imperative they understand that not following the ABCs of safe sleep is dangerous and can be potentially fatal for their child.”

The ABCs of safe sleep refer to parents and caregivers keeping infants alone, on their back and in a crib with nothing in the crib except for the infant and a fitted sheet, according to information provided by the department.

The report stated there were 1,005 child deaths in Missouri and at out-of-state military installations in 2022. There were 170 unintentional injury fatalities in 2022, the highest in 20 years.

In addition to infant sleep-related suffocation (79) and poisoning (53), the highest number of fatalities were vehicular (77) and firearm (75). Six deaths were directly attributed to COVID-19 in 2022.

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