Study warns don't use codeine for kids' coughs or pain

cough kidHas your child ever had such a bad cough that you've asked your pediatrician for cough medicine with codeine? Or perhaps your child had his or her tonsils out and the surgeon prescribed codeine for pain. If either is true, you should know that codeine is incredibly dangerous for kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report titled “Codeine: Time to Say No.” According to the report, there have been documented occurrences of life-threatening and fatal breathing issues in children who have taken codeine. The report cites continued use of the drug in pediatric settings despite growing evidence of these issues. Parents and health providers are urged to stop giving codeine to children until there is more education about its risks and restrictions on its use in patients younger than 18.

According to the report, pediatric patients either see little effect from codeine or high sensitivity. Those with obstructed sleep apnea are at particular risk because of opioid sensitivity. A review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showed that from 1965 to 2015, there were 64 reported cases of severe respiratory depression and 24 codeine-related deaths — 21 of which were in children younger than 12 years old.

The World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have issued stern warnings regarding the occurrence of adverse effects of codeine in children.

Additional clinical research is required to understand the risks and benefits of both opioid and nonopioid alternatives for chronic pain in children. In the meantime, the effective uses of nonopioid drugs, such as acetaminophen, and NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, for children with postoperative pain have shown to significantly reduce or, in some cases, eliminate the need for opioids.

For children with coughs, the AAP recommends warm, clear fluids for children ages 3 months to 1 year and the use of honey (2-5 milliliters) for children older than 1 year. Honey is proven to thin secretions and loosen coughs but can cause botulism is children younger than age 1. A humidifier is also recommended for all ages to keep the air moist and nasal mucus from drying up. Children should also drink plenty of fluids.

By Betsy Stein

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