According to the Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Since the start of 2018, 100 children between the ages of 9 and 12 in New Jersey have attempted suicide by trying to overdose on drugs.
“Suicide in young preteens is becoming more and more common, signaling a real public health threat for our state,” Dr. Diane P. Calello, the center’s executive director, said in the statement. “Our suicide attempt data also brings to light the fact that almost 80% of these cases were young females.”
The number of intentional overdose attempts in 2018 in this age group — 70 children — is nearly double what it was in 2015, according to the center’s data.
The center’s managing director, Dr. Bruce Ruck, said 30 such incidents have been reported so far in 2019. If that rate stayed consistent for the rest of year, the annual upward trend would continue.
Since hospitals aren’t required to report intentional overdoses in children, the center bases its data on the number of calls it gets seeking advice about a child who has overdosed, either from a parent, relative or a hospital emergency room. The numbers do not include any intentional overdoses that ended in death, Ruck said.
“My opinion is with that age group, it’s about the ease of access,” Ruck said of why children are attempting suicide by overdose. “It’s everything from acetaminophen to prescription medications.”
“We used to say ‘Keep it up high and out of reach.’ Now it’s ‘Either lock it up, or get it out of the house!‘”
Ruck said that the data does show more very young children attempting suicide, including 8- or 9-year-olds. It is still rare, he said, “but we’re seeing it.”
Of the 100 incidents reported since 2018, 68 were 12 years old, 22 were 11 years old, seven were 10 years old, and three were 9 years old, the center said. The youngest in the data set from 2015 to the present was an 8-year-old in 2017, Dr. Ruck says.
The Poison Control Center urged parents, school staff and other adults who work with children to be vigilant for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts. It also advised locking up medications and using drug take back events to get unused medicine out of the house.
Even cough syrup and medicines that seem less harmful can be abused, Dr. Ruck says. “If you’re not using it, get rid of it!”