(NaturalNews) America continues its reputation as a "medication nation" with a new study warning that children are increasingly being treated with the powerful painkiller codeine.
According to the results of a decade-long study just published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that emergency room physicians prescribe codeine to children in excess of a half-million times each year. The findings come despite national guidelines that call for not giving the drug to children.
The study found that that just 3 percent of kids' E.R. visits resulted in a codeine prescription in 2010, but as emergency room visits have soared to more than 25 million per year, the study's authors say far too many children are being prescribed the drug when there are better options available.
As reported by CBS News:
The study's lead author, Dr. Sunitha Kaiser, an associate pediatrics professor at the University of California, San Francisco, says doctors and parents should know about codeine's drawbacks and that alternatives are available, including dark honey for coughs in children over age 1; and ibuprofen or the opiate drug hydrocodone, for pain including broken bones.
Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director at Gramercy Pediatrics in New York, said on "CBS This Morning" that she was "floored" by the study.
Parents often demand a prescription
"I've never seen a doctor write codeine as a cough suppressant or as a painkiller in an emergency room," she said. "I worked in the Bronx. I worked in many hospitals, I've never seen it happen."
Hes further explained that codeine actually carries a big risk of respiratory suppression.
"Codeine is a pro-drug, which means it's converted into morphine by your liver," she said. "In children, not all of the enzymes work the same. In anybody actually, the enzyme can have different levels of activity, so some children can ultra-metabolize this, which means they rapidly convert it to morphine and that can lead to respiratory suppression and eventually death. It doesn't have a good safety protocol profile so the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for a long time -- over 10 years -- to not use codeine as a cough suppressant and it's also not effective."
The way emergency rooms are being staffed could be partially to blame for the rise in codeine prescriptions to children, she suggested.
"A lot of hospitals around the country have a lot of adult emergency room doctors staffing their ER and they're covering the pediatrics side of the emergency room and it's more common to use codeine in adults because it has a better safety profile -- even though it doesn't really work well for a cough suppressant -- even if it does a little bit, it has a better safety profile," Hes said. "Your patient won't die of stopping breathing in the middle of the night. So they're used to writing it."
Figure of prescriptions per year may be much higher
In addition, she says, patients' parents may also be playing a role in the prescriptions.
"When people stay in an emergency room for six or eight hours... and they're told that their kid has a cold and they're to use a humidifier, saline drops, some tea and honey, a lot of parents get upset and they want a prescription," she said.
The bottom line, she added, is that codeine is "dangerous" and that it is not effective in treating a child's cough or cold.
CNN reported that the number of kids being written prescriptions for codeine by E.R. physicians is close to 870,000 a year.
The news company also said that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended against prescribing codeine for children since 1997. Sources: