Parents who give their fussy babies a dose of cough medicine to get them to sleep are committing child abuse, stresses a new report from researchers at the University of Colorado. And the practice may be more widespread than previously thought.
Published online July 22, 2010, in the Journal of Pediatrics, the study looked at the National Poison Data System between 2000 and 2008, reviewing 14,000 pharmaceutical-related child abuse claims including the use of cough and cold medicines and other sedatives, along with antipsychotic medications, painkillers, and sleeping pills. In nearly half of the cases, children were exposed to at least one sedative, with consequences resulting from hospitalizations for poisoning to death. In the 18 deaths reported in the study period, 17 were related to the abusive use of a sedative.
The abusive use of drugs on children is an under-recognized issue, says Dr. Shan Yin, a toxicology fellow at the University of Colorado and the lead author on a new study on the topic, in an interview with ABC News.
Even when the caregiver is not intending to harm the child, it still constitutes child abuse, Yin says, and doctors need "to be aware of this kind of issue" just as they would be on alert for signs of physical or sexual abuse in a child.
Unfortunately, many parents, especially young parents, tend to think that over-the counter equals "no big deal," according to Amitava Dasgupta, a toxicologist called in to consult on a recent case of infant cough medicine abuse in Texas, in an interview with ABC News. As Dasgupta points out, children under age 7 are especially susceptible to being harmed by the misuse of the medications, especially when they are used on an otherwise healthy child as a sedative.
"Because a child or infant's body is not an adult body, pharmaceuticals can be dangerous" when not given under a doctor's supervision, Dasgupta says. Even giving a pediatric dose to a child can be risky as some small children are more sensitive than others to sedatives or painkillers.
According to a recent AAP warning, parents should not administer cough and cold medicines to children under 2 years old, even when they are sick, due to the risk of overdose and other side effects.