Skip to main content

As NYC Reels from Fentanyl Day Care Tragedy, Child Care Overdoses Are More Common Than We Think

New York Post

September 25, 2023

“He had so much love,” Zoila Dominici said of her 1-year-old son Nicholas who died last week from fentanyl exposure after his home-based day care in The Bronx, Divino Nino, was found to be doubling as a drug den.

Three other toddlers were hospitalized when the fentanyl fumes were absorbed into their lungs. 

Unfortunately, cases like this are not as rare as we’d like to think.

According to a study published earlier this year in the journal Pediatrics, there were 731 children 5 and under who suffered from poison-related fatalities between 2005 and 2018.

The percentage that resulted from opioids went from less than a quarter to more than half during that period.

Prior to the opioid epidemic, the number of poisonings had actually been declining, experts speculate, because of mandates requiring child-proofing for medication packages. But now we are back to square one.

Fumes from fentanyl and methamphetamines can be fatal —even police officers investigating these scenes get sick.

And because of the sheer quantity of pills that most users take, fentanvl is an enormous risk for small children if one accidentally rolls away.

“Of course, the children are always the victims in these things,” John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during the George W. Bush administration, said to The Post.

Usually these tragedies do not occur in day care centers, but rather as a result of parents at home. “People who are using drugs and addicted are not careful.

These highly dangerous substances now are going to be in the lives of children. And more of them will become victims of overdoses.”

New Mexico is at the forefront of this tragic trend.

According to Maralyn Beck, the founder of non-profit New Mexico Child First, 49 children under the age of four have died of drug ingestion in the last 48 months.

Over the summer, three children under the age of four in Portland, Ore., died within 10 days of one another after coming into contact with fentanyl.

Even in sparsely-populated Maine, a fatality review panel found that fentanyl accounted for seven pediatric ingestions during 2022.

But these numbers are probably higher since many hospitals don’t even include fentanyl when testing for drugs in a child’s system. 

“Kids have been getting into adult’s drugs and alcohol for as long as day is long,” says Beck, to the Post. But she says, the “deadliness of fentanyl is changing the game. We must deal swiftly with this problem or continue to lose a generation.”

Maybe that sounds like an exaggeration, but to put things in perspective, there were only 184 gun deaths among those 5 and under in 2021 — half those who died from opioid poisoning.

Yet hardly a day goes by without a discussion of how to get guns off the street. By contrast, says Walters, we have basically accepted the drug crisis.

He notes that as of 2022 — which saw 110,000 overdose deaths nationwide — the goal of the Biden administration was to reduce such fatalities by 13% by 2025.

In other words, says Walters, “the official policy is to allow hundreds of thousands of people to die of overdoses on the claim that’s the best the [White House] can do.”

Widespread legalization, the free flow of drugs into the country, and the cultural acceptance of drug use have all brought us to this point. 

And these child fatalities represent only the portion of the iceberg we can see. Underneath the surface are hundreds of thousands of children living with addicted adults who are not capable of protecting them from harm. It is becoming increasingly common in states like Connecticut and New Mexico for the parents of babies born with drugs in their system to be sent home from the hospital with a “plan of safe care.” 

Missing from that plan are any kind of child welfare protocols or consequences if they fail to keep their kids safe. New York City, meanwhile, has severely limited drug testing of new mothers and infants.  

There will always be cases where we don’t know about the presence of drugs — though it sounds like the situation at Divino Nino was an open secret. But if we don’t do anything about the drugs we actually know about, we have only ourselves to blame for the inevitable child overdose tragedies to come.