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Unintentional Overdoses are Common in Children

April 15, 2008

In 2004 and 2005, adverse drug events were the third leading cause of nonfatal injuries among infants treated in hospital emergency departments. They were also the sixth leading cause of nonfatal injuries among children 1 to 4 years old.

Over 158,500 patients younger than 18 visited emergency departments for adverse reactions to prescription and non-prescription medications, vaccines, vitamins and dietary supplements in that two year period.

Children between 1 and 4 years old were nearly 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for these adverse drug events. Almost half of the adverse drug events were unintentional overdoses, mostly from pain relief and respiratory medications.

As often as drugs are administered to infants and young children, it’s easy to forget that 75 percent of all prescription drugs do NOT have labeling instructions for children, leaving their use in children up to your doctor’s discretion. 

The Dangerous Play of Pediatric Drugs 

Since so little information is available on the pediatric use of drugs, physicians frequently prescribe drugs for off-label uses in children, which can lead to disasters of the worst kind. In hospital settings, almost 80 percent of children get drugs that are NOT approved for pediatric use.

A 2005 British study found that when a "suitable alternative" did not exist, doctors used unlicensed or "off label" medicine in:

The rampant use of drugs, both for children and adults, is a very serious one. And, although this study focuses solely on non-lethal injuries to children, medications clearly claim the lives of thousands of children each year. In-hospital medical errors alone account for about 4,500 pediatric deaths every year in America. 

Another study, published in 2002, found that medications given to children and mothers during pregnancy, labor or while breast-feeding, played a role in 769 deaths and close to 6,000 side effects in children under 2 years of age between 1997 and 2000 in the U.S. 

73 Percent of Off-Label Drug Uses Lack Evidence of Effectiveness 

That’s right. 73 percent of off-label drug uses in children lack evidence of clinical effectiveness. It’s like throwing darts in the dark. It’s pure guesswork.  

Perhaps even worse, the greatest disparity between supported and unsupported off-label uses is found among prescriptions for psychiatric uses, where only 4 percent of drugs have strong support, versus 96 percent having very limited or no support whatsoever from medical studies! Considering the fact that the use of psychiatric drugs in children as young as two has skyrocketed in the past decade, it’s nothing short of an uncontrolled mass-experiment. 

Since information on how to prescribe medications to children is so scarce, doctors often rely on the flawed assumption that children are simply smaller versions of adults.

In reality, however, drugs act much differently in children. Among the limited number of drugs that have been tested for pediatric safety and effectiveness, it has been found that:

Another alarming factor discovered is that children process drugs more quickly than adults do, and because children are still developing, drugs could stunt physical growth or impair emotional and cognitive development.

A classic example of the dangers surrounding medications for kids was highlighted recently concerning children’s over-the-counter cold medicines. These drugs were over prescribed to well-intentioned parents looking to soothe their children, despite the fact that there was very little evidence that they worked. In fact, there was growing evidence that many of these drugs were fraught with side effects.

How Many Drugs Are Your Kids Taking?

The sad reality is that kids in the United States are being vastly overmedicated, both with drugs meant for pediatric use, and those that have yet to be tested. According to the Journal of Pediatrics study above, 56 percent of children and adolescents younger than 18 take at least one medication each week! 19 percent take at least one prescription drug. 

Also consider these sobering facts:

Are All Natural Remedies Safe For Kids? 

Please realize that nearly all of the problems for which kids are given drugs can be resolved using natural methods. However, do not substitute with dietary supplements and herbal formulas willy-nilly. Just because something is natural does not automatically render it 100 percent safe… 

Vitamins, minerals, herbals and other complementary supplements are also listed in the study above – even though they are still far safer than drugs.  

For the sake of comparison, here’s a condensed version of their listing of drugs implicated in adverse events in children treated in 63 U.S. emergency departments, from 2004 to 2005: 

Drug Number of Cases
Antimicrobial Agents (incl. antibiotics) 1511
Analgesic agents (incl. aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen) 880
Respiratory agents (incl. anti-asthmatic drugs, cough and cold formulas) 644
Vaccines 490
Neurologic agents (incl. sedatives, hypnotics, anticonvulsants) 466
Psychotropic Agents (incl. antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants) 451
Cardiovascular agents (incl. beta-blockers) 298
Vitamins and Minerals 124
Herbal, complementary and alternative agents 79

The top four non-lethal adverse reactions were: 

  1. Unintentional overdoses
  2. Allergic reactions
  3. Adverse effects
  4. Vaccine reactions 

How to Prime Your Child for a Lifetime of Optimal Health

It’s quite common for parents – especially first-time parents -- to rush their children to a doctor for every minor ailment. It’s important to remember that in the first year or two of life, your child's immune system is still being formed, and their experiences during this time can often predict whether or not they will have life-long health problems.

Scientific studies continually support the wisdom of limiting exposures to "foreign" substances for children, including synthetic chemicals -- which includes drugs.

Along with immune system development, your child's nervous system continues to develop well into their seventh year of life. With the recent epidemic increase in the rates of autism, attention deficit, and hyperactivity disorders, it would seem prudent to nurture and protect your child’s health in every way possible.

It’s also important to remember that your child’s immune system is most influenced by diet, not by drugs or supplements.

Here are some common sense strategies that will help prime your child for a lifetime of optimal health:

I would strongly encourage you to do the research before giving your child any medication, and only do so if there is truly no other option (you may need to seek out the opinion of a doctor who is knowledgeable about natural medicine).

If you are still skeptical about the toxic effects drugs have on kids, I urge you to invest some time to watch The Drugging of Our Children, a documentary by Gary Null. It is a powerful testimony to the urgent need for change.

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