As the opioid epidemic only gets worse, America's most innocent are increasingly paying a hefty price.
Opioids are a highly addictive type of drug that includes prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and street drugs like heroin.
Despite efforts to curtail the problem, more people continue to succumb to the drugs. Nearly 425,000 adults died from opioid overdoses in 2016 according to the CDC, the highest number on record.
Likewise, hospitalizations from opioid overdoses among children nearly doubled since 2004, according to a study published in today's Journal Pediatrics. The study looked at children between the ages of one and 17, breaking them down into three age categories. Teens accounted for 60-percent of the hospitalizations. Children between the ages of one and five accounted for more than one-third.
Dr. John Dyben, with Origins Recovery Centers, one of the leading addiction treatment providers in the country, told CBN News the problem among the youngest victims stems from parents or grandparents leaving opioids within reach of small children. "They are programmed to put things into their mouths," he said.
"We need to remember with children that these are extremely dangerous, potent and poisonous and we can not let our guard down with those medications," adding, "Adults should treat prescription opioids as you would treat a loaded gun. You should keep them locked at all times."
Dyben said adults need to be especially careful with leftover prescriptions. "Once you're done with them, if you have an excess, get rid of them," he said, "Take them to your local pharmacy. They will destroy them for you. Don't let them lie around the house."
Dyben said an astounding 80-percent of heroin users first became addicted to opioids when they taking prescription painkillers, such as following a surgical procedure. "Addiction is not a moral failing, it's something that happens in the brain," he explained.
"When people become addicted to prescription medications and they can no longer get them," Dyben explained, "...the brain is still addicted and will tell you, 'You must get some kind of drug,' and so people turn to heroin at alarming numbers."
When prescriptions run out and doctors are unwilling to renew them, people who've become addicted to them find heroin easy to obtain and cheaper than the prescriptions.
"The human brain is the organ involved with addiction and the human brain does not know the drug you're putting into it was given by a street pusher or by a physician," Dyben said.
He said opioid addiction needs to be treated like a public health epidemic like Zika or Ebola. "Unfortunately we do not have a concerted effort to treat this like a public health epidemic," he said, saying the outbreak needs to be attacked from several sides under the leadership of a panel of epidemiologists, social scientists, and medical experts.