Child deaths hit a record low in 2021, despite an increase in the number of child homicides and fentanyl overdoses, according to a report released today by the State Child Death Review Board of Kansas.
The board’s annual report analyzed the deaths of Kansas children (birth through 17 years old) that occurred in calendar year 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.
“Within the three decades that the State Child Death Review Board has been in in existence, more than 12,000 deaths of Kansas children have been examined. The data provided in this report is critical to our understanding of why children are dying,” said Sara Hortenstine, the board’s executive director. “We know that behind each of these statistics are the stories of children who lost their lives too soon, families who are still grieving, and communities that will be impacted forever. We must learn from these difficult circumstances and take action to prevent future deaths of Kansas children.”
Overall, the report showed Kansas had 349 child fatalities in 2021, compared with 365 in 2020. The overall child death rate in 2021 was 49.6 deaths per 100,000 population, both the lowest number and rate of death since the board was created in 1994.
The rate of deaths due to natural causes declined in the last five years, the report revealed. In 2021, 100-plus fewer children died of natural causes compared to 2018. Despite the overall decreasing number of child deaths in Kansas, homicides, weapon-related deaths, and drug-related deaths in children has shown an alarming increase.
Thirty-two children died from homicide in 2021 compared to only 22 child homicides in 2020, a 45% increase. The report also indicates drug-related deaths increased significantly in the past two years. While no children died in 2017, 2018, and 2019 from fentanyl, 20 kids died from fentanyl overdoses in 2020 and 2021.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 500,000 people of all ages died from overdoses involving both illicit and prescribed use of opioids from 1999-2019. In recent years, both nationally and in Kansas, the data has shown an increase in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. While fentanyl is a prescription drug, it is also manufactured illegally. Frequently it is incorporated into illicitly manufactured pressed pills and mixed with other substances without the knowledge of the end user.
Nationwide, the CDC recorded over 110,000 overdose deaths nationwide in 2022.
“My office is committed to preventing every preventable death of a child. This report shows a dramatic increase in fentanyl deaths in 2020 and 2021 as compared with previous years. We are using every tool at our disposal to deal with this threat,” Kobach said.
In addition to policy recommendations, the report includes prevention points that families can use to decrease the likelihood of a child’s death.
The board is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency volunteer board organized by law within the attorney general’s office to examine trends and patterns that identify risk factors in the deaths of children, from birth through 17 years of age. The report is available on the attorney general’s website at https://ag.ks.gov/scdrb.