Topeka, KS – The State Child Death Review Board this week reported that Kansas recorded an increase in the number of drug-related deaths in children age 0-17, including a rapid rise related to fentanyl.
The board’s just-released annual report analyzes the deaths of Kansas children (birth through 17 years old) that occurred in calendar year 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. The report showed that the number of drug-related deaths rose to 16 in 2020 up from five in 2019. There were 11 fentanyl deaths in 2020, after reporting no fentanyl deaths in the previous four years.
From a national standpoint, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 500,000 people of all ages died from overdoses involving both illicit and prescribed use of opioids from 1999-2019. In recent years, both nationally and in Kansas, the data has shown an increase in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. While fentanyl is a prescription drug, it is also manufactured illegally. Frequently it is incorporated into illicitly manufactured pressed pills and mixed with other substances without the knowledge of the end user.
“Within the three decades that the State Child Death Review Board has been in existence, more than 12,000 deaths of Kansas children have been examined,” said Sara Hortenstine, the board’s executive director. The stories of these tragic losses have turned into data aimed to inform and direct prevention in our state. There is an immediate need in our state to ensure that youth and their families know that fentanyl-laced products are accessible and that even a one-time experiment with a drug can be deadly.”
Overall, the report showed Kansas had 365 child fatalities in 2020, compared with 362 in 2019. The overall child death rate in 2020 was 52.4 deaths per 100,000 population, continuing a downward trend from the past decade. The data also revealed that the number of suicides among Kansas youth decreased, albeit slightly, continuing a decline experienced the previous year.
In 2020 there were 26 youth suicides in Kansas, a decrease from the 28 youth suicides occurring in 2019. The Board found that of the 26 youths who died by suicide, 85% were male and 15% were female. Furthermore, 54% communicated suicidal thoughts, actions or intent prior to taking their life. In eight of the suicide deaths, the Board determined that disruption in the youth’s life related to the COVID-19 pandemic was a contributing factor in their death.
In June 2018, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Tower Mental Health Foundation formed the Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force to survey efforts underway in Kansas to reduce the incidence of youth suicide and provide recommendations on further steps that could be taken. In 2019, the Kansas Legislature created the Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator position in effort to implement the recommendations of the task force.
In September, a free app, called “Kansas – A Friend AsKS,” was launched in partnership with The Jason Foundation, a national suicide prevention organization. The app connects youth to tools and resources to help a friend, or themselves, who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. The app also offers the option for users to call or text the 988 mental health crisis line, which was launched in Kansas in July. The app is available for download in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store or by clicking the links at https://ag.ks.gov/asKS.
“The increase in drug overdoses and the continued loss of our youth by suicide are blunt reminders that we have much more work to do in Kansas to ensure the wellbeing of our children,” Schmidt said. “I appreciate the dedicated work of the State Child Death Review Board in compiling this information to help inform policymakers and stakeholders in efforts to meet the challenges of these health and wellbeing issues head on.”
In addition to policy recommendations, the report includes prevention points that families can use to decrease the likelihood of a child’s death.
The board is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency volunteer board organized by law within the attorney general’s office to examine trends and patterns that identify risk factors in the deaths of children, from birth through 17 years of age. The report is available on the attorney general’s website at https://ag.ks.gov/scdrb.
If you or anyone you know are in need of crisis support, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. The Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator is located in the Victim Services Division of the Office of the Attorney General and can be reached at 1-800-828-9475. If someone needs help with substance abuse, they may call the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration national hotline at 1-800-662-4357 for confidential free help from public health agencies to find free substance use treatment and information.