When Penny Mae Cormani died in Utah, her family sang Mormon hymns — "Be Still My Soul" — and lowered her small coffin into the earth. The latest victim of a drug epidemic that is now taking 60,000 lives a year, Penny was just 1.
Increasingly, parents and the police are encountering toddlers and young children unconscious or dead after consuming an adult's opioids.
At the children's hospital in Dayton, Ohio, accidental ingestions have more than doubled, to some 200 intoxications a year, with tiny bodies found laced by drugs like fentanyl. In Milwaukee, eight children have died of opioid poisoning since late 2015, all from legal substances like methadone and oxycodone. In Salt Lake City, one emergency doctor recently revived four overdosing toddlers in a night, a phenomenon she called both new and alarming.
"It's a cancer," said Mauria Leydsman, Penny's grandmother, of the nation's opioid problem, "with tendrils that are going everywhere."
While these deaths represent a small fraction of the epidemic's toll, they are an indication of how deeply the American addiction crisis has cut.