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Children & Painkillers

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For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned of the potential dangers of prescribing the painkiller and cough suppressant, codeine, to children. A new study finds far too many young patients are still being given the drug.

New dad Wesley Johnson asks a lot of questions when his twin boys are prescribed any medication. "I think we have to have a thorough conversation with our doctors about it, research it as much as possible. Being parents, we just don't want to give our kids anything."

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds some emergency room doctors still prescribe "codeine" even though guidelines warn it can be dangerous in children.

"Absolutely, potentially harmful. Children are definitely different from adults, whenever we give them medication," says Dr. Julia White.

Codeine is an opiate prescribed for cough and pain. The study found it can help some children, but about a third get no relief while others can build up toxic amounts causing excessive sleepiness, difficulty breathing, and, in the rarest of cases, death. The FDA warns it can also trigger rare, life-threatening complications after some surgeries.

Pediatrician Peter Waldstein says it isn't worth the risk and says there are safer alternatives especially for a cough.

"Good old honey."

"Honey!"

"Okay, honey works, and as far as pain relief, ibuprofen."

Pediatricians advise, for more severe pain, hydrocodone is a safer, more effective option. Johnson says he will steer clear of giving his boys any medication without checking with his doctor first.  

The study can be found in the May issue of Pediatrics. It suggests that, in addition to emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals should also reduce the amount of codeine prescribed to children.  

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