Intentional Cough Syrup Overdoses Deadly, Health Officials Say

December 22, 2008 04:14 PM
by Emily Coakley
In some fatal cases, over-the-counter cough and cold medicine was being used to keep young children quiet, a new study reported.

Parents, Day Care Workers Giving Kids Intentional Overdoses

The overdose of cough and cold medicine sometimes led to children’s deaths, according to the Daily Mail.

The study examined the deaths of 189 children who had taken too much cough syrup, and “in one in 10 cases, the parents knew they were over-treating their child,” the Daily Mail reported.

Dr. Richard Dart of Denver’s Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, said of the study, “I am concerned that we have blinkers on and we don’t want to admit that there is a group of parents who all the warnings in the world won’t help because they did it knowingly.”

Some of the adults who administered the cough medication were day care workers who weren’t being malicious, but were likely overwhelmed and looking for a way to calm down the kids, Dart said, according to the Daily Mail.

After recent concerns over the safety of cough medicine for children under the age of six, Health Canada has announced that children six and younger should not take over-the-counter cold medicine at all, the Canadian Press reported.

“Besides the risk of bad reactions to the drugs—including excess sleepiness and rapid heartbeat—Health Canada said there was no evidence they actually benefit children, whose cold symptoms will resolve on their own in time,” the Canadian Press wrote.

In 13 years, Health Canada received more than 120 reports of bad reactions to over-the-counter cold medicine in young children, including five deaths of children under the age of two. The Canadian Press said it’s not clear whether the deaths were attributable to “misuse or overdose of the products.”

Manufacturers must change their labels by fall 2009 to reflect Health Canada’s recommendations.

Background: Cough syrup warning in the United States

In March, the Food and Drug Administration said that children under the age of two shouldn’t take over-the-counter cough medicine because of the possibility of dangerous side effects, according to findingDulcinea. A prescription medication, Tussionex Pennkinetic Extended-Release Suspension, was also related to problems in children and adults. The FDA said children under the age of six shouldn’t take it, and adults needed to follow the directions carefully.

Manufacturers have responded to concerns about young children and cough medicine by pulling such products off the market. The FDA is mulling a ban for over-the-counter medications for children six and younger.

There are concerns that if a ban were enacted, parents would just give adult medications to their kids, findingDulcinea reported.

“We do not want to do something that we think will have a positive impact, only to have an unintended negative. That could be an even worse situation,” said Dr. John Jenkins of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year.

Reference: Cold and flu guide


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