Codeine Not Safe For Kids: Doctors Advise Against It


Codeine is not safe for kids, according to health experts. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, also known as AAP, published a report in the journal Pediatrics, which warned parents about the usage of codeine.

Codeine is an opiate that is used to treat pain and is found in cough and diarrhea medicines. The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that children are also often given codeine after surgical procedures such as tonsil and adenoid removal.

According to Dr. Joseph Tobias, chief of anesthesiology and pain medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and the author of the report, it is time for others in his profession to recognize the fact that codeine is not safe for kids.

Dr. Tobias is calling on pediatrics nationwide to stop giving children codeine. In his report, the medical expert said that for many years pediatricians opted to give kids codeine because they believed it was safer than all other narcotics.

Tobias said that studies have shown that no two children process codeine the same way. While some kids handle codeine well, others have difficulties processing, and it is converted by the liver into morphine, which can lead to death. Tobias explained:

“Now, lo and behold, we’re learning that due to this genetic variation it’s a very dangerous medication. Children who rapidly metabolize codeine into an overdose of morphine can experience severely slowed breathing rates, and may even stop breathing and die.”

It is hard to know which child can break down the drug and which one can not. In 2013, three children died after receiving codeine either in a cough suppressant or after surgery. Between 2007 and 2011, over 800,000 children under the age of 11 were prescribed codeine.

The report revealed that while many health experts have expressed concerns regarding codeine for years, no measures have been taken to remove it from pharmacies. The drug is still available without a prescription in over-the-counter cough formulas from outpatient pharmacies in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said codeine is too unpredictable, and doctors should opt for oxycodone, fentanyl or Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen) to control severe pain, instead of codeine. Glatter said:

“While the number of fatalities and cases of respiratory depression are small compared to the number of doses administered over many decades of use, it’s important we still draw attention to the fact that codeine is not an ideal medicine to treat pain.”

Dr. Amy Sniderman, a pediatrician with the Cleveland Clinic, added:

“They’re a little more predictable. You could start with a small dose and see how a child reacts to it, and be comfortable that you can predict how the child is going to respond to it.”

A large group of pediatricians has taken the decision to stop prescribing codeine to their young patients.


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