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Florida parents should be aware of potential dangers of codeine

A new study shows that despite the potential risks of giving children medications containing codeine and serious questions about its benefits to young patients, the use of these medications to treat children in emergency rooms has decreased only slightly. The study, which was just published on the website Pediatrics, states that "hundreds of thousands of kids are still being prescribed codeine every year." This is despite the fact that both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics have warned against giving codeine to children.

For this study, researchers looked at over 189 million emergency room visits between 2001 and 2010 by patients between the ages of 3 and 17. During that period, the percentage of these patients who were prescribed medications with codeine dropped less than one percent (from 3.7 percent to 2.9 percent). More patients between 8 and 17 were prescribed codeine than younger children. The drug was given most frequently to treat pain caused by an injury and for colds and coughs.

So why is codeine not recommended for children? According to the study's lead author, "There's been growing evidence that codeine is metabolized very differently in different children, with a small portion of them being at risk for potentially fatal side effects." Further, she says that a third of children "metabolize it in a way that they get no effect at all." Among the non-fatal effects of codeine reported are respiratory problems and allergic reactions.

While the study dealt only with emergency room prescriptions of codeine, the study's lead author noted, "It's not a good drug for children in any setting." One physician who works in a pediatric emergency room notes that one reason the drug may be given to children brought in with coughs that are the result of a viral illness is that "often there's some expectation by parents that we do something."

Florida parents have a right to know what drugs are being given to their children. If a medication with codeine is prescribed, you can and should ask why it is necessary and what other alternatives there may be. While the vast majority of health care providers strive to do the right thing and make an injured or ill child as comfortable as possible, if a child suffers a serious or fatal reaction to codeine, a medical malpractice action may be worth considering.

Source: USA Today, "Children prescribed codeine despite safety concerns" Michelle Healy, Apr. 21, 2014

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