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CNN Invokes "Think of the Children" and Bad Math to Fan Flames of "Opioid Epidemic."

Posted 2018-03-06 by Joe.

On March 5, CNN posted a story to their news website breathlessly trumpeting a "study says" headline (excerpts below):

The number of children admitted to hospitals for opioid overdose has nearly doubled since 2004, according to a new study. The study, which published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at children between ages 1 and 17 who were admitted to hospitals and pediatric intensive care units with opioid-related diagnoses from 2004 to 2015.[...] "When they come in, they're going to fall into one of two categories: either they're teenagers with intentional or drug-seeking behavior because of recreational or self-injurious behavior, or they're kids who got into their parents' medication," said Dr. Jason Kane, an associate professor of pediatrics and critical care at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago and a lead author on the study.[...] "What was really striking to me is just how sick these kids are and that almost half of them end up in the ICU," Kane said. "The reason why that's important to recognize is that nationwide there's only about 4,100 pediatric ICU beds, which is in contrast to the number of adult ICU beds, which is closer to 78,000.

[...] This study comes at a time when opioid use among adults in the US has reached epidemic proportions. According to the CDC, more than 42,000 people died in the US from opioid overdose in 2016, more than any year on record.

The problem with this news bombshell is the numbers involved. The study points to about 797 kids total the earlier period, and "nearly double" as many, 1,504, during the later. That's not per year--it works out to about 200 per year 2004-2007 vs. 376 per year 2012-2015. No deaths were reported during the periods involved.

Something else CNN didn't do is compare this number to, for example, kids seen in hospitals for playground injuries in the US (200,000 injured per year, with about 15 deaths per year; excerpts below):

Each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries (Tinsworth 2001).

  • About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe–fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Tinsworth 2001).
  • About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001). Most occur at schools and daycare centers (Phelan 2001).
  • Between 1990 and 2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries. Of them, 82 (56%) died from strangulation and 31 (20%) died from falls to the playground surface. Most of these deaths (70%) occurred on home playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001).
  • In 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion (Office of Technology Assessment 1995).

Sure, technically, CNN is right. "Nearly doubled" means "not double," and 376 is not double 200.

But, by CNN's numbers, schools, daycare centers, public parks, and other play areas are over 50,000% more dangerous to our children than opioids are in terms of risk of hospitalization or death.

Needless injury to children is never a good thing, but the question here is this: Is this responsible reporting, simply inflammatory fluff for the "Zounds! Opoids" story, or somewhere in between?

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