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Doctors Continue To Prescribe Codeine to Children Despite Its Harmful Effects

Update Date: Apr 21, 2014 09:17 AM EDT

Doctors have been prescribing codeine despite its potentially harmful effects in children, according to a new research from UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco. 

"Despite strong evidence against the use of codeine in children, the drug continues to be prescribed to large numbers of them each year," said Sunitha Kaiser, MD, UCSF assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco and lead author, in the press release. "It can be prescribed in any clinical setting, so it is important to decrease codeine prescription to children in other settings such as clinics and hospitals, in addition to emergency rooms."

Codeine is an opioid often prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain and suppress cough. The processing of the drug varies among children and statistically about a third receive no symptom relief from taking it. Researches have also found that up to one in 12 can even accumulate toxic amounts causing breathing to slow down leading to possible death.

 "Many children are at risk of not getting any benefit from codeine, and we know there are safer, more effective alternatives available," Kaiser said. "A small portion of children are at risk of fatal toxicity from codeine, mainly in situations that make them more vulnerable to the effects of high drug levels such as after a tonsillectomy."

Findings of the study suggested that codeine prescription were higher in children 8-12 and in regions outside the Northeast, and lower for non-Hispanic black children or those with Medicaid. 

 "Further research is needed to determine the reasons for these lower rates so we can reduce codeine prescriptions to all children," Kaiser added in the press release. 

The study has been published in the journal Pediatrics. 

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