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Recently, a number of outlets, including the Washington Post, reported on a study about the alarming rise in children who were exposed to parents' marijuana edibles. As always, it's important to view these things in context, and think about how many kids are actually treated for eating pot. We're going to go that, today on Healthcare Triage News.

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Just recently, a number of outlets, including The Washington Post, reported on a study about the alarming rise in children who are exposed to parents' pot edibles. You may have seen a story on this somewhere or other. But as always, it's important to view these things in context. We're gonna do that today on Healthcare Triage News.

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From the WA Post story, and I'm quoting, "Between 2000 and 2006, there was no significant change in the number of children who were reported to have been exposed to marijuana. By the end of that period, medical marijuana was legal in 11 states. But between 2006 and 2013, the rate of exposure increased by 147.5%. Even in states where medical marijuana use isn't legal, the study found that exposure rates increased, though not as much as in states where it was legal."

First of all, I think that everyone agrees that pot edibles should be kept away from kids, just like alcohol and other drugs. It may be that edibles are more difficult for kids to distinguish from other substances, but no one thinks we should just leave them laying around. No one serious, anyway.

But the main point of this is the huge increase in exposure, especially with legalization--148% is a big increase. But it's relative. Let's go to the study itself. To the research!

It looked at marijuana exposures among kids 5 years of age or younger, using data from the National Poison Data System. You may know this as Poison Control. 

From 2000 through 2013, there were 1,969 marijuana exposures in kids 5 years of age and under reported to the National Poison Data System. This number did increase from just under 100 in 2000 to almost 250 in 2013. That is a 147% increase, yes. But that increase is relative.

The percentage is what's scary. And this paper seems to report only percentages and rates in the results, so I had to try and read the actual numbers off of charts. A cynical person would say that it's hard to find the actual numbers in the paper because they're still really pretty low, and not nearly as flashy as the relative percentage increases. That's what a cynical person would say.

And please understand that I'm not minimizing the fact that these numbers are real, and that kids eating pot edibles is a problem. About half of those kids required treatment in a healthcare facility. About 12% were admitted to general hospital wards, and about 7% were thought to perhaps require hospitalization in a critical care service.

But what concerns me about all of this is the lack of context. I see many articles hyperventilating about the dangers of pot brownies, but almost none on the dangers of other substances left around the house.

In 2013 alone, more than 11,000 calls were made to the National Poison Data System for kids 5 years of age or under for exposure to alcohol. Three children died from alcohol exposure.

And I'm not even talking about the more than 45,000 calls for exposure to antihistamines, or the 28,000 calls for antimicrobials, or the more than 25,000 calls for cough and cold medicines. Remember: this paper and article are concerned about the almost 250 calls for pot edibles.

Even when we acknowledge that the number for pot brownies could go up as marijuana becomes more and more legal, there's still a long way to go to reach those other numbers. We absolutely should be concerned about kids getting their hands on pot edibles. We should be concerned about kids getting their hands on all things which they shouldn't, and which could potentially harm them.

But if we want to improve the health of children, we should focus on the things that matter--the rate limiting steps--if we want to make a difference. When I see stories and campaigns that focus on those things, I'll be a much happier pediatric health services researcher.


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