FDA Health Bulletin: Codeine is Not Safe as Cure for Cough and Cold for Children

The Food and Drug Administration decided to look deeper at medicines that contain codeine as cure for cough and cold for children. They posted an announcement on Wednesday on their site stating that they will assess all available data and will also consult with third party experts through a convention by their advisory committee and discuss the health issues.

This decision resulted from the European Medicines Agency statement that such medications should not be used as treatment for children’s cough and cold, especially those below 12 years. The agency also insisted that the medicines is also unhealthy for children between 12 and 18. The medicine is said to have bad side effects, including slowed or difficulty breathing.

People have already been warned by the FDA in 2013 about giving children codeine after surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids. Last Wednesday, the FDA stated that if children show signs of slow or shallow breathing, difficult or noisy breathing, confusion, or unusual sleepiness, parents and caregivers should immediately stop the intake of codeine and consult a doctor right away.

Codeine is a type of opioid used for pain relief and may also be taken together with other medicines like the ones for cough and colds. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned people against using codeine for children since 1997.

Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician from Atlanta, said that people have already been warned about using cough medicine to children below 6 years old. Although it is common to prescribe cough medicines containing codeine to children who suffer bad cold or sinus infection to help them sleep and no other cure is available. The bad part is that it does not only suppress the cough, but it can also hamper breathing.

Compared to adults, children cannot break down the drug and require a higher dose, while some digest it very quickly. Either way, they are in danger of overdosing. Dr. Alan Woolf, director of the Pediatrics Environmental Health Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, has enforced that other side effects of codeine are rashes, hives, vomiting in kids and constipation.

Despite all these negative data, doctors still prescribe this type of medicine. A study published last year showed that 870,000 prescriptions were still issued yearly for children of all ages, with those between 8 and 12 most likely prescribed for such medication. Doctors and patients should do harder and be more cautious in codeine prescriptions, Shu said.