Posts Tagged ‘medication’

Children’s Medications: Coming Changes and Tips to Avoid Overdose

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

We all know that a little over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can be just what the doctor ordered for minor aches, pains or to help combat the symptoms of a nasty flu. Most adults, however, also realize that medications can be dangerous. No, I am not talking about the blast from the past news stories about medications that have been tampered with (…though it is weird that the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is back in the news as one possible suspect in the Tylenol poisonings that killed people in the Chicago area in 1982). My focus today is on the danger involved with overdoses of commonly used pain medication. In particular, the risk of accidentally overdosing children on OTC pain relievers such as Tylenol.

Image from www.tylenol.com

There has been quite a bit of focus recently on the possible changes to Tylenol and other acetaminophen containing drugs for children. These are not formula changes and they have nothing to do with the myriad of Tylenol recalls over the past couple of years. Currently, the basic concern is that overdoses of this common medication accounts for a fairly sizeable number of poisoning cases, which can be very serious since overdose can cause liver damage to children. An AP article reports that:

Dosing errors with children’s acetaminophen products accounted for 2.8 percent, or 7,500, of the 270,165 emergencies reported to poison centers last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Overdoses can be caused by parents not reading the label, misinterpreting the dosing instructions or using a spoon or other container instead of the cup included with the product.

These overdose situations most often occur in children under 2 years old.

Chart provided on www.tylenol.com

When I read this, I was not surprised. Currently acetaminophen for children, Tylenol and other brands, come in two different concentrations.  Most commonly one is labeled “Children’s” and the other “Infant’s.” Each of these medications include on the outside packaging a confusing little matrix that details the correct dosage for a child of a particular age or weight range. The correct dosing for your child’s age and weight may not be the same if you have a child that is particularly large or small for their age. Additionally, if you have both children’s and infant’s acetaminophen products in your home, you must be careful to provide the correct dosing for the correct concentration. This does not even get into the differences in dosing between the liquid medicine and the tablets. Finally, the box does not provide dosing information for children less than two years of age. The dosing instruction for children under 24 months is “ask your doctor.” So, how many of you are going to make that phone call?

The harsh realities of parenting and sick kids

My children are both young; the youngest is now a little past her second birthday. In the last few years, we have had both infant and children medication in the house, liquid and tablets, and I have been very careful to make sure to double-check myself if I ever have to medicate either child to make sure that I am reading the correct dosing matrix for the correct concentration and for the correct child. More often than not, I have found that children need medication when their parents are tired. As parents know – children frequently get sick in the middle of the night and when children in the house are sick nobody in the household sleeps well. I always try to take this into account to avoid dosing errors. However, this can be confusing particularly when children are little.

When my children were very little, I used to ask the doctor at each appointment what would be the correct Tylenol dose for their current weight. I did not foresee having to use that information, but I wanted to make sure that I knew the correct amount in case I was caught with a sick child in the middle of the night. If it had been a while since my child was weighed, I would sometimes have to call for dosing information. Additionally, I found that it was nearly impossible to dose a child properly using the little cups included with the medication. However, the medicine packaging clearly states that you are only to dose using the enclosed cup. I found that my ability to dose the correct amount of medication was much improved when I used a syringe style dropper.

The FDA steps in – finally!

Well, apparently, I have not been alone in my concerns. The FDA panel that met last week, has made some recommendations that may improve some of these problems in the future and lessen the chances that children will receive too much medication. According to the AP article, the following recommendations have been voted on and will be recommended to the FDA:

  • Dosing instructions should be added for children younger than 2 years old
  • Dosing instructions should be provided based on a child’s weight (rather than the focus being on a child’s age)
  • Limiting cup measurements to milliliters  (rather than both teaspoons and milliliters…one of many things that make the current measurement cups confusing)
  • Mandating a single dosage for children’s solid acetaminophen tablets

Infant Tylenol (and other acetaminophen products) a thing of the past

Relatedly, the article mentioned that the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which includes the makers of Tylenol and many other acetaminophen producers, agreed to voluntarily stop producing infant drops. This decision means that a day may be coming soon when there would only be one concentration available of children’s acetaminophen.

Some tips and tricks to avoid overdosing your child

If infant acetaminophen is eliminated and children’s acetaminophen is sold with the changed dosing instructions, I think that parents and other caregivers will find it much easier to provide children with the correct amount of medication. However, I would still recommend taking the following steps to protect your children:

  • Keep all medications, including children’s acetaminophen, in a locked closet or other locked secure location away from children.
  • Do not forget to re-secure medication, even when children are sick, so that children are not accidentally able to overdose (when using medicine frequently the temptation to leave it accessible should not overcome the safety element of keeping it away from little hands).
  • Keep a list of the current weight of each child in the house available with the medications so that a caregiver (or tired parent) knows the weight of each child to be able to refer to the dosing chart when needed.
  • Use a clearly marked cup or syringe that is specifically for medicine to dose your child – do not use a household spoon or other imprecise measuring tool.
  • If in doubt on dosing, call the pediatrician to be sure – do not guess!
  • When multiple people will be caring for a sick child (or if you are tired), make sure that you note down the time of each dose of medication to ensure proper timing between doses to avoid accidental overdose.
  • Read the ingredients on any medication carefully to ensure that you do not give your child multiple medications containing the same ingredient – acetaminophen is sometimes added to other medications in combination drugs.

The best advice

Obviously, since I am not a doctor, you should check with your pediatrician if you have any questions about what the correct method is for providing medication to your child, but these tips will hopefully help eliminate some of the more common medication errors in your home.

Your take?

Do you have other tips to share? What about the recommended changes, do you think that additional changes are needed? Do you use fever-reducing medications in your child if your child is not displaying other symptoms, or do you allow the fever to do its work its way out?

Who’s Hawking Rx Drugs? Is It Really an Effective Medication or Just Effective Marketing?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

We have all seen the non-stop drug ads on TV – a pill or injection that will cure whatever it is that ails us. Public advertising, however, is just one way that pharmaceutical companies get their drugs into the market place. Behind the scenes, there is a full-blown marketing campaign that the public never sees in which drug companies hire doctors (tens of thousands of doctors) to spread the word on their drugs, primarily by giving talks to other doctors.  An ongoing investigation by ProPublica reveals that some of these doctors have significant disciplinary actions in their past:

A review of physician licensing records in the 15 most-populous states and three others found sanctions against more than 250 speakers, including some of the highest paid. Their misconduct included inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care or having sex with patients. Some of the doctors had even lost their licenses.  More than 40 have received FDA warnings for research misconduct, lost hospital privileges or been convicted of crimes. And at least 20 more have had two or more malpractice judgments or settlements. This accounting is by no means complete; many state regulators don’t post these actions on their web sites.

There is no doubt that the pharmaceutical industry (sometimes referred to as Big Pharma) is a huge industry.  According to IMS Health,a healthcare information and consulting company, prescription drugs generate $300 billion in sales in the United States alone.  Therefore, the pressure on drug companies to market their products is immense. For the doctors out there, doing free-lance work for drug companies can be a very lucrative side-business, with some physicians earning as much as $1,500 to $2,000 for giving a single talk to a group of doctors. While there is nothing wrong with marketing a legal product, the public must be assured that the marketing is honest and that the drugs in question are being prescribed because they are effective drugs, not simply because the drug companies have an effective marketing campaign.

“Without question the public should care,” said Dr. Joseph Ross, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine who has written about the industry’s influence on physicians. “You would never want your kid learning from a bad teacher. Why would you want your doctor learning from a bad doctor, someone who hasn’t displayed good judgment in the past?”

Big Pharma appears to be turning a relatively blind eye to the situation. As part of its investigation, ProPublica compiled a database of physicians who work for the drug companies, and then cross-checked these doctors’ credentials and state disciplinary records.  The drug companies themselves could have taken this approach in vetting their doctors, but most do not bother to do so. Most companies “rely on self-reporting and checks of federal databases.”  However, it is the state disciplinary records that typically contain the relevant data on doctors who have been disciplined (and even state authorities do not always post such infractions on their websites). Lisa Bero, a pharmacy professor at University of California, San Francisco, questions the way that Big Pharma checks on its doctors:

Did they not do background checks on these people?  Why did they pick them? If they did things in their background that are questionable, what about the information they’re giving to me now?

In addition to disciplinary actions, ProPublica also raises questions as to these doctors’ credentials, e.g. medical research, academic appointments and professional society involvement, that would make them especially qualified to speak on medical conditions and ways to treat them. The investigation highlights a Las Vegas endocrinologist who has earned over $300,000 from Big Pharma. However, ProPublica contends that it was unable to locate any credentials on this doctor other than his schooling and some 20-year-old research articles. Furthermore, an online brochure from a recent presentation given by this doctor indicated that he was the chief of endocrinology at a local hospital, but “an official there said he hasn’t held that title since 2008.” Such stories only add to the serious questions as to how Big Pharma is selecting its doctors.

Certainly, a lot of good can come from honest marketing of effective new drugs. Especially in out-of-the way places, a talk by a knowledgeable physician can be a great source of information on new treatments available for a certain disease. If a new drug is truly effective, then by all means the word needs to get out on that drug because such drugs allow us to live longer and to live more comfortably with what were once debilitating diseases.  However, the public must demand honest assessment of these drugs. When drug companies allow unscrupulous doctors to hawk their wares, it raises legitimate suspicion as to whether these drugs are so popular because they are truly effective or simply because they had a good marketing blitz.

If you are curious about a specific doctor, ProPublica has a searchable database of doctors who do work for drug companies. Also, ProPublica has published several follow-up and/or related articles which can be found here.