Serious Drug Reactions Affect Half Million Kids

An emerging study, appearing in October’s Pediatrics, suggests that <"">serious adverse drug reactions affect over 500,000 children each year, according to the Associated Press (AP). In many cases the children require hospitalization, said the AP

The AP pointed out that children under the age of five—about 43 percent—are most impacted and that penicillin and other prescription antibiotics are among those drugs most commonly resulting in reactions that include rashes, stomach distress, and diarrhea. Lead author Dr. Florence Bourgeois, a pediatric physician at Children’s Hospital in Boston said, “first-time medication exposures may reveal an allergic reaction,” quoted the AP. The article suggests physicians advise parents about potential reactions for new drugs, and parents be aware of when children first take new drugs, citing Dr. Bourgeois.

The study looked at national statistics regarding clinic and emergency room visits between 1995 and 2005 for prescription drug reactions, said the AP, noting that the annual average was 585,922. While no deaths were reported, five percent of the children required hospitalization. The study included accidental overdoses and noted that medications for ear infections, strep throat, depression, and cancer, were most involved, said the AP. Teenagers tended to have side effects with connection to birth control pills such as “menstrual problems, nausea, and vomiting,” the AP reported. Teens—age 15 to 18—accounted for about 23 percent of all clinic and emergency room visits, said the AP.

Hospitalized children—some 540,000 annually—also suffered adverse reactions to medications that included, said the AP, “side effects, medicine mix-ups, and accidental overdoses,” citing government data. The report also suggests children medicated at home are equally at risk, said the AP.

One of the problems is linked with liquid medication dosing that can be prescribed in drop, teaspoon or milliliter amounts, said the AP. Problems occur when parents interchange amounts, explained Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. For instance, a parent mistakenly believes one teaspoon and one milliliter refer to the same amount. Physician-parent and parent-pharmacist clarity should always be in place prior to dispensing medication, warned Cohen, said the AP.

Earlier this year we wrote about a related issue that affects medications geared to children. A study released at the time confirmed that medications routinely prescribed to pediatric patients are not always approved for children. Science Daily reported that children and teenagers are often prescribed drugs that have not been approved for their age groups. The problem with prescribing adult medications to children, pointed out Science Daily, is that a drug might not be effective, and could even pose serious dangers and adverse reactions, in children. The study found that nearly 60 percent are such drugs not approved for use in newborns.

It is also widely understood that children metabolize medications differently than adults and that physicians often lack clear guidelines on the best drugs to use for children, often guessing at prescription dosages.

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