LOUISVILLE — A new report by a state oversight panel shows a growing number of Kentucky's infants are dying from unsafe sleep situations, often suffocated while sleeping with an adult impaired by drugs or alcohol.
The Courier-Journal reports other small children have died after ingesting drugs left in the home by adults, according to the 2015 annual report by the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel.
"It's ... a huge issue because of our growing drug problem,'' said Dr. Melissa Currie, a University of Louisville forensic pediatrician and a member of the panel. "The number one risk for sleep deaths is substance abuse.''
The role of the panel, created in 2012 by former Gov. Steve Beshear amid several high-profile child abuse deaths, is to review deaths and life-threatening injuries to children from suspected abuse or neglect with a goal of preventing such incidents and recommending policy changes to reduce child deaths and injuries.
This year's report examined 77 cases of deaths or serious injuries.
Panel chairman Roger Crittenden, a retired Franklin Circuit Court judge, said that with funding from the General Assembly in 2014, the panel has been able to hire staff and provide a more detailed analysis of individual child death and injury cases that sometime run to hundreds of pages.
"I think we're starting to see real progress in terms of recommendations we are comfortable with that should have an impact,'' he said.
The panel believes some child sleep deaths involving impaired adults go uncounted because caregivers are not routinely tested for drugs or alcohol when a child dies unexpectedly in their care.
Among the panel's recommendations is that the state develop a system for uniformly testing adults for drugs or alcohol in such circumstances.
Currie said public health efforts should include warnings that an infant is at even greater risk sleeping with an adult impaired by alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs such as painkillers.
"There were just a lot of cases of babies sleeping in bed with a caregiver and those caregivers were under the influence of something,'' she said.