Children's Tylenol Gets a Time Out: The Perils Infecting Pediatric Medicines

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Alerts & Recalls, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers

An illness is lingering in the kiddie medicine aisle this flu season, but it's not feverish school kids. Blame it on Big Pharma.

There isn't any Children's Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl or Zyrtec on the shelves and won't be until spring, according to Johnson & Johnson, the uber drugmaker that over the past year has recalled a laundry list of pediatric pills and liquids. The first recall came last January, the most recent last month.

Oh, there's nothing too toxic. Some products were stronger than usual. Some harbored an extra something-something like a musty odor traced to 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, a chemical in wooden pallets around the drug warehouse. Sounds frightening but the recalls are voluntary. No one's reported any "adverse medical events" save minor stomach upset. Hmmm. Could I be vomiting because I'm sick? No, must be that pill.

Last spring, I returned several bottles and packages of the recalled medicines to my local drugstore. Most of the items I'd already opened and used. Only a smattering of generics remained in stock and not a single dose of cetirizine hydrochloride (a.k.a. Zyrtec), not ideal with tree pollen peaking. Worried about relinquishing the Zyrtec with my kids weezing and sneezing through spring allergies I didn't return all of it. Nor did I gather up the rest of the suspect meds in my house. I didn't want to go without an emergency stash of pain relievers either. You never know when someone's going to fall from the monkey bars or wake up with a 104.5 fever. Anyhow, I'd already given the meds to my children before the recalls so I wasn't completely worried. In fact, I'd given them a lot of the antihistamines. I've used them since and maybe the others meds too. The kids seemed fine, no ill effects.

I cannot say the same for myself. No one might have been seriously sickened, but I'm sick of this mess.

Pediatric medicines are a public health nuisance, but not because they stink or cause diarrhea. Dosing remains treacherous. The microscopic dosing instructions and markings are ridiculous. Now there's official evidence that dosing materials suck. A recent study of pediatric products published by the Journal of the American Medical Association chronicled widespread problems including items sold without measuring "devices," missing or inconsistent markings on the devices, unusual units (e.g., drams) and confusing abbreviations.

Then there's the not so child-proof packaging. Remember two years ago when the FDA banned cough and cold meds for children under 2 due to safety concerns such as fatal side effects? Manufacturers agreed to a label that kids under 4 shouldn't use them. Shortly thereafter a study in the journal Pediatrics concluded that indeed the drugs were dangerous ... due to insufficient child-proofing. Most ER visits attributable to the meds involved "self-administered" overdoses mainly by preschoolers who helped themselves to the candy-colored, fruity concoctions. Most other ER visits resulted from accidental overdoses administered by adults. I can't imagine it's any different with other children's products.

So let's be honest about kiddie medicines: Their peril stems from deficiencies in dosing materials and packaging. Protracted recalls that promote a sense of alarm without any real evidence of harm don't help, either. Neither do bans that fail to stress the actual hazards (packaging, dosing).

As a psychologist who's parented through a decade of warnings and risks -- including the vaccines-autism scare -- I think about the consequences of repeated threats of danger, especially exaggerated threats.

When harm lurks everywhere, it's not only stressful, but potentially precarious. After too many false alarms, people stop paying attention to nuances or downplay risks so it's harder to distinguish serious threats from moderate or remote ones. The worst case scenario? The next thalidomide doesn't look much worse than Children's Tylenol. Then we'll all need to take two aspirin and lay down.

Correction, Dec. 15, 2010: The original version of this column erroneously reported that Johnson & Johnson is the producer of Advil. We've corrected the error.

More on recalled children's tylenol:


ReaderComments (Page 1 of 2)

12

FollowUs

Flickr RSS

TheTalkies

AskAdviceMama

AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.