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CT infants are most at risk for 'preventable' death, new report says

Four multi-ethnic babies posing.
Nancy Brown /Bass Ackwards / Getty Images
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The Image Bank RF
Four multi-ethnic babies posing.

According to a report released in late July, 97 children in Connecticut under the age of 3 suffered “preventable” deaths from January of 2019 to August of 2022.

Investigators found evidence of abuse in 30 of the 97 cases, according to the Infant and Toddler Fatality Report.

State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, who monitors the public and private agencies that protect children, says the rest of the cases were due to negligence.

“Almost all of the infants who died — not for homicide reasons — died where there was a risk factor in their sleep environment,” Eagan said. “They were co-sleeping with multiple children or an adult, stomach sleeping, sleeping in a sleep space with other items in there. In several of the cases, the medical examiner's team was able to establish that the child actually suffocated.”

The high incidence of suffocation is further buttressed by data in the report: that 85 of the 97 deaths recorded happened to children 12 months old or younger.

“In Connecticut, we see upwards of 20, sometimes 25, infants a year die in this manner,” Eagan said. “And, yes, experts conclude that these deaths are preventable.”

While suffocation has long been a known danger, young children in Connecticut are being threatened by a new danger: fentanyl, an opioid.

“Five years ago, we had zero children under the age of 3who died from fentanyl intoxication,” Eagan said. “Since 2018, the country saw a sixfold increase in pediatric fentanyl intoxication.”

According to the report, eight of the child deaths recorded were due to fentanyl ingestion.

“It is important to state, as we do in the report, that breastfeeding is not the mechanism of fatal injury,” Eagan said, “but much more likely inadvertent exposure to trace amounts that may be on clothing patches, utensils or other apparatus that were used to mix items.”

Eagan said evidence suggests the number of infant and toddler fentanyl deaths recorded over the span of the report could have been significantly higher.

“In the same time period, we had three times as many near fatal injuries due to suspected opioid ingestion of young children,” Eagan said. “Children who, but for the administration of Naloxone by first responders, would also have been fatally injured by inadvertent ingestion.”

Eagan said the new danger to children posed by fentanyl requires increased vigilance.

“It is imperative that public and public health officials understand this public health problem,” Eagan said. “As a multi-generational problem for every adult who's in need of treatment, there may be a child in the household or that individual's child who also needs help and support.”

This report doesn’t just detail how children in Connecticut are dying. It also details which children are dying the most. According to the report, 63% of the children who died were male. More than 50% of the children who died were identified as Black, Hispanic or biracial.

As to whether that’s due to systematic bias or poverty, Eagan said: “It's probably all of the above.”

“To prevent child fatalities, we need to shore up supports and give healthcare supports, nutrition supports, housing, supports, home visiting support,” she said. “So we are giving, via our public policy, every infant the best start that they need and deserve in life.”

The Infant and Toddler Fatality Report was a joint effort between the Yale Department of Emergency Medicine and the Connecticut Office of The Child Advocate.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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