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Report: More Than 49,000 Patients Under Age 21 Went To ER For Opioid Addiction

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There's disturbing new information about America's opioid crisis.

Children are being caught up in this pressing public health problem in alarming numbers.

Kids are showing up at emergency rooms addicted in large numbers and health officials say the problem is worsening.

Researchers are calling the situation a pediatric public health crisis, as the opioid epidemic sweeping the country is leaving its mark on our future, with more teenagers becoming addicted to powerful painkillers and heroin.

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New research being presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics says between 2008 to 2013, the number of emergency room visits by opioid-addicted patients under age 21 jumped from 32,000 to more than 49,000. More than 500 children died in the emergency room or after hospitalization.

"Our kids are dying. They're dying, and it's awful to see, you know, and to witness," said Maria Afordakos, an addiction counselor at the Adolescent Treatment Services at Manhattan's Realization Center.

The data shows about 135 young people are showing up at emergency rooms every day addicted to opioids.

"For our youth, I really think we need to do a better job giving them resources," said Afordakos.

Addiction counselors say drug treatment is critical.

One 22-year-old became addicted to opioids when he was just 13. A snowboarding accident shattered his leg and a doctor prescribed powerful painkillers.

"It made everything OK for me," he said.

He continued, "By my senior year, I was probably in the bathroom every other period, at least, to do dope."

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Pain pills led to other hard drugs and at least three hospitalizations for overdoses.

Most people who end up addicted to opioids started out with a legitimate prescription, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency has been trying to get doctors to limit narcotic prescriptions – a difficult balance when they're trying to help patients relieve pain.

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