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Medical Malpractice Blog Post

U.S. Doctors Over-Prescribe Codeine to Children

Although it is dangerous to prescribe codeine to children, a new study reveals that many doctors continue to use it for cough and pain management in young patients.

Codeine is a narcotic long used by doctors to treat minor pain and suppress cough. The rate by which codeine is metabolized in children varies. Depending on the child, the drug could be rendered ineffective — or it could have deadly effects. In 1997 and 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned physicians of the danger and lack of medical support for its use.

In a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) looked at data from the National Hospital and Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. By reviewing the frequency of codeine prescriptions for children ages three to 17 years in the United States, study authors determined the following:

  • Despite warnings that codeine is not safe or effective, the rate of prescription fell only a small percentage, from 3.7 percent to 2.9 percent.
  • Between 500,000 and 855,000 prescriptions for codeine are still dispensed each year.
  • Children ages eight to 12 years old are most likely to receive codeine.
  • Prescription of codeine is higher outside of the Northeastern United States, for patients on Medicaid and for non-Hispanic black children.

Parents are taught to trust pediatricians and other medical professionals, so they are less likely to question the medications being prescribed to their children. Sunitha Kaiser, MD, lead author of the study, noted, “[d]espite strong evidence against the use of codeine in children, the drug continues to be prescribed to large numbers of them each year.”

If your child takes a medication containing codeine and appears confused, unusually sleepy or has difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention. For this and other cases of potential medical malpractice or negligence, consult an attorney for legal advice.

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2550 Fifth Avenue, 11th Floor
San Diego, California, 92103-6612 USA