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Doctors Warned Against Prescribing Codeine to Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that doctors annually prescribe codeine to children more than 500,000 times or during 3 percent of all hospital emergency room visits, despite strict warnings from the U.S Food and Drug Administration against giving the powerful drug to the young.

The researchers used an annual nationwide survey on hospital and outpatient care given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, to determine the frequency of codeine prescriptions to children aged 3 to 17 during ER visits between 2001 and 2010.

Codeine is an opiate, with the potential for serious side affects. About a third of children can not metabolize the drug well so they do not receive any benefits and are not at risk from taking it. However, 8 percent metabolize it too quickly, creating toxic levels of morphine in their bodies that could be fatal.

The AAP has already warned doctors twice over the last 20 years against prescribing the drug to minors, and in Canada and Europe age restrictions are set to children over the age of 12.

“We have hundreds of thousands of children still getting codeine, even though there are better and safer alternatives available,” study author Dr. Sunitha Kaiser, an associate pediatrics professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said to WebMD News.

What’s more surprising is that the drug is also commonly prescribed for cold and cough symptoms, and not necessarily to manage pain from a major operation or injury.

Other pain relievers, such as ibuprofen have been proven a safe and reliable alternative for pain management and dark honey can be given to children over the age of 1 for respiratory symptoms.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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