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Children Prescribed Codeine in the ER Too Frequently Despite Risks

A new study is calling out emergency room doctors for prescribing children in the ER codeine.  Codeine is an opiate drug and it can be metabolized too quickly in children, leading to excessive sleepiness and in worse cases, difficulty breathing.  The Food and Drug Administration issued a strict warning last year that it should not be given to children after certain surgeries, and that it should only be used when the benefits are greater than the risks.  Nevertheless, given that 25 million ER visits per year are children, too many are being given codeine in situations where it is more lethal than it is helpful.

Study Looks at 10 Years of ER Data and Codeine Prescriptions to Children

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at 10 years of hospital data and codeine prescriptions to children.  The data is collected annually by the Centers for Disease Control.  The results showed that ER doctors prescribed 560,000 to 880,000 prescriptions for codeine to children each year between 2001 and 2010.  Study results also showed that children ages 8-12 were given the highest number of codeine prescriptions, regions outside the Northeast U.S., and lower for non-Hispanic Black children and children on Medicaid.  In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a warning against the use of codeine in children, but the study authors found no change in the rate of codeine prescriptions to children during that year.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Child from the Dangers of Codeine

Codeine is an old drug, in that it’s been around for a while.  This can causes complacency by medical professionals about its safety for children; plus, codeine is a well-known drug, so most people feel like it’s safe.  Unfortunately, codeine is not safe for children but is still prescribed to children for anything from coughs to mild pain.  If you’re in the position that a doctor wants to prescribe your child codeine, you can ask for alternatives.  For example, if your child has a cough, ask about a cough suppressant or even try something like dark honey to soothe the throat (it’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for this purpose).  Similarly, if your child is experiencing pain, there are other painkillers that are safer options for children.

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