Putting Warning Labels On Children’s Cough Medication Can Help Prevent ER Visits

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The number of children going to emergency rooms because of adverse reactions to children’s cough and cold medications fell after drug manufacturers voluntarily recalled the products in 2007 and re-released them with stricter warning labels, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Before the voluntary recall and relabeling efforts, there were widespread reports that young children and infants were being given — or accidentally consuming — cough drugs that could lead to painful side effects, a trip to the ER, and even death despite mixed evidence that these drugs were particularly effective in fighting off disease.

The new labels explicitly warn parents that such medicines shouldn’t be given to children younger than age four. Data shows that the number of infants under age two visiting the emergency room because of cold medications fell by over 41 percent after drug makers introduced the stronger warnings, and by nearly a third for children between ages two and three.

However, researchers also found that the percentage of kids going to the ER after accidentally consuming the medicines stayed constant even after pharmaceutical companies switched to the stricter labels.

“Progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to do to reduce adverse events from cough and cold medications,” said lead study author Dr. Lee Hampton.

Addressing that dilemma will likely require a smarter medicine bottle, according to researchers. “It’s not a labeling issue anymore,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, another study author. “It’s that the bottles themselves could be made safer.”

In fact, doctors across the country have argued that smarter bottles — including ones that are truly child-proof and those that only dispense the exact prescribed dosage of medicine — could help save billions of dollars and lives by making sure that patients follow their drug regimen and curbing the ongoing epidemic of prescription drug overdoses.