Study: Children's Medications Contain Inconsistencies Between Instructions, Measuring Devices
Over-the-counter liquid children's medicines like pain relievers and stomach aids may be dangerous, and it's not because of the drugs themselves, but because of their oft-confusing instructions and measuring devices. According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 98.6 percent of 200 popular children's liquid medicines examined contained dosing directions that didn't match up with the markings on the measuring cup or syringe provided. About 25 percent had devices that lacked the necessary markings, and 81 percent of the devices had markings that weren't among the label's recommended doses. The study's authors suggest requiring that all manufacturers use a standard unit for measuring, like milliliters, rather than teaspoons and tablespoons. That could take government action to bring about.
In the meantime, we've got kids to take care of, U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute writes. Darren DeWalt, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, spoke with U.S. News about what parents can do to protect their children from dosing errors while the industry gets its act together. DeWalt studies how well people understand medical information and wrote an editorial in JAMA calling for not just better packaging, but more help for parents. Here's his advice:
1. Don't grab a spoon from the silverware drawer for dosing medicine. "We know those are inaccurate," DeWalt says. But parents often choose them because those plastic cups that come with many children's medications are "unintelligible," he says.
2. If you're using medicine that comes with a cup or a syringe, take it to the pharmacist and ask her to put a mark on it. Say: "My kid weighs 40 pounds. Can you mark the right dosage?" DeWalt says that's the easiest way to reduce the risk of mistakes that can lead to dangerous drug overdoses.
3. Realize that doling out the correct dose is difficult in the best of circumstances, and give extra attention to the process if you're up in the middle of the night with a sick child. Says DeWalt: "One thing we know for sure is that it's easy to make mistakes."
Other research has found that droppers are more accurate than are the oft-provided plastic measuring cups, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been urging parents to use the measuring devices packaged with the medicine, even if they aren't droppers. Confusing enough? Once again, more clarity and guidance is desperately needed.
The bottom line: We parents need to come up with a system for our families that will be as accurate as possible, given the crummy tools we've got to work with. You can be sure that the next time I buy over-the-counter meds for my child, I'll march right up to the pharmacist's counter, Sharpie in hand, and say: "Can you mark this for me?"
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