In Pennsylvania, the number of children who died or were seriously injured because they ingested illegal drugs or prescription medications rose significantly last year.By Jessica Guay

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A local doctor has an urgent message for parents after Pennsylvania saw an increase in child deaths and near-deaths from drug ingestion.

“It is very sad. Reviewing the deaths is emotionally exhausting,” said Dr. Mary Carrasco, director of A Child’s Place and the chair of the Allegheny County Child Fatality/Near Fatality Review Team.

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She’s talking about reviewing deaths when children get their hands on illegal drugs or prescription medications.

“Whatever drugs you have in your home, they need to be either in a lockbox or consistently kept safe from young children, because children are curious and they’re going to get into anything,” Dr. Carrasco said.

Over the weekend, a 10-month-old baby died at UPMC Children’s Hospital. Police said she ingested a stamp bag of heroin in her Ambridge home last month. Her mother is facing charges.

In Pennsylvania, the number of children who died or were seriously injured because they ingested illegal drugs or prescription medications rose significantly last year. According to the Department of Human Services’ annual child abuse report, there were 11 fatalities in 2020 and three in 2019; near-fatality numbers were 45 in 2020 and 21 in 2019.

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Dr. Carrasco shared Allegheny County’s numbers. She said in 2020, there were three child fatalities and four near-fatalities from drug ingestion. She said in 2021, up to September, there have been two child fatalities and three near-fatalities from drug ingestion. The numbers could increase as there are cases that haven’t been reviewed yet.

“I think our numbers are going to be higher by the end of the year. I think our numbers are going to be higher than 2020. And definitely, they are already higher than 2019,” said Dr. Carrasco.

She’s pleading with parents to keep drugs in a secure and safe place. She’s also asking behavioral health providers and community members to speak up to prevent more heartbreaking incidents.

“Everyone around who knows someone who is on methadone or illegal substances … just remind them that their kids could get into this and could die and how do you live with that?” Dr. Carrasco said.

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Alice Bell, the overdose prevention project coordinator at Prevention Point Pittsburgh, said if you have drugs in your home, especially opioids, you should have Naloxone in the home because it could end up saving a child’s life.