Opioid Related Deaths of Infants and Young Children
Charis Kepron MD MSc FRCPC
ABSTRACT: The prevalence of the opioid drugs is increasing worldwide. Greater access in turn increases the risk of infants and young children being exposed to potentially fatal concentrations of these drugs, either by accident or through the negligent or deliberate actions of a caregiver. This report reviews opioid-related fatalities in this population and discusses homicidal and accidental poisonings and the possible routes of exposure, including through breastfeeding. As with adults, autopsy findings in fatal pediatric opioid toxicity are nonspecific and such cases may mimic death from natural diseases such as metabolic disorders or channelopathies. A detailed review of the case history together with a complete autopsy and toxicology testing are essential for the correct certification of these deaths. Further challenges arise from the fact that toxic ranges for opioids are not well-defined in the pediatric population, and the forensic pathologist must rely on case reports and small case series to assist in the determination of "how much is too much". Resources such as the National Association of Medical Examiners Pediatric Toxicology Registry (NAME PedTox) continue to be of great value, but depend on the voluntary submission of case data from members. Emerging pharmacogenetic data are revealing genetic variations associated with altered metabolism and tissue distribution of opioids; therefore, molecular autopsy techniques should be considered in these challenging cases, especially where the manner of death is unclear.