No mama likes to see their kids sick. Each cough and sneeze has a way of breaking your heart—so it’s only natural to want them to feel better as soon as possible. But the type of drugs you use to treat your kid’s illness will soon change.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that children should no longer take prescription cold and cough medicine containing opioids, such as codeine or hydrocodone.
“It’s become clear that the use of prescription, opioid-containing medicines to treat cough and cold in children comes with serious risks that don’t justify their use in this vulnerable population,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
The FDA will now require drug makers to note on labels that opioid-containing cold and cough medications are not safe for use by children younger than 18 years old. The federal agency also mandated that safety labels for these drugs now include an expanded boxed warning for adults addressing misuse, abuse, dependency, overdose, death and other risks associated with opioid addiction.
In a news release, the FDA explained that their health experts are concerned about “unnecessary exposure to opioids" and the potential for addiction in kids, given that the country is grappling with an opioid epidemic.
“It’s critical that we protect children from unnecessary exposure to prescription cough medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone,” says Gottlieb. “At the same time we’re taking steps to help reassure parents that treating the common cough and cold is possible without using opioid-containing products.”
This isn’t the first time the FDA has banned opioid-based medication for children’s use. In April of last year, the federal agency announced that doctors could no longer prescribe codeine and tramadol to treat pain or cough in preteens younger than 12 years old. The FDA made this decision after research showed both medications can lead to life-threatening breathing problems in children.
Kids and young adults are also among the most at-risk groups for developing painkiller addictions: According to a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey, roughly one in nine people aged 12 to 25 abused prescription drugs, including Oxycontin and certain cough medicines, within the past year.
Another study published in September 2017 found that more and more children are landing in the hospital for opioid abuse. Researchers discovered that, in 2013 alone, doctors diagnosed nearly 50,000 kids who went to the emergency room with an opioid dependency or addiction.
The FDA strongly recommends parents talk with their child’s physician about any concerns or for alternatives if they’re currently giving their kids prescription cold medicine containing opioids. But be cautious about turning to over-the-counter medications to treat your kid’s symptoms; some states allow opioid-based products to be sold in stores, according to FDA, so check labels first.
The FDA’s latest move is an important, proactive step aimed at minimizing the risk children will become dependent on opioids—so we’ll gladly follow their lead and look for alternative cough-relief treatments.