Objective: There are few reports in children of overdoses of buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist used in the treatment of opioid dependence and pain. The purpose of this study was to analyze buprenorphine overdoses in young children reported by US poison centers to the Researched Abuse, Diversion, and Addiction-Related Surveillance System.
Methods: A retrospective review of buprenorphine overdoses in children < 6 years of age reported to the Researched Abuse, Diversion, and Addiction-Related Surveillance System from November 2002 through December 2005 was performed. Patients lost to follow-up and those ingesting multiple substances were excluded.
Results: Eighty-six cases met inclusion criteria. In the 54 children who developed toxicity, the clinical effects included drowsiness or lethargy (55%), vomiting (21%), miosis (21%), respiratory depression (7%), agitation or irritability (5%), pallor (3%), and coma (2%). There were no fatalities. The mean time to onset of effects was 64.2 minutes, with a range of 20 minutes to 3 hours. Duration of clinical effects was under 2 hours in 11%, 2 to 8 hours in 59%, 8 to 24 hours in 26%, and > 24 hours in 4%. Children who ingested > or = 2 mg of buprenorphine were more likely to experience clinical effects, and all of the children who ingested > 4 mg experienced some effect. No child ingesting < 4 mg experienced a severe effect. Of the 22 children administered naloxone, 67% had at least a partial response.
Conclusions: Buprenorphine overdoses are generally well tolerated in children, with significant central nervous system and respiratory depression occurring in only 7%. Any child ingesting > 2 mg and children < 2 years of age ingesting more than a lick or taste should be referred to the emergency department for a minimum of 6 hours of observation. Naloxone can be used to reverse respiratory depression.