This is part 1 of a 3-part series on safe remedies for children.
1. The dangers of medications for children
2. Go-to natural remedies for common children’s illnesses (How to detox your medicine cabinet and replace OTC meds with corresponding effective natural remedies).
3. How to ensure safety when using natural remedies and essential oils for children
Many of these dangers, remedies and safety measures will be very much relevant for adults too. I will link to each article as I complete them over the next couple of days.
Children get sick often. Their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed and they are constantly coming into contact with new foods, people and environments which they must adapt to. Colds, flus, rashes, fevers, headaches, tummy aches, ear infections, sore throats etc are an everyday occurrence in classrooms and families with young children.
When our young ones aren’t feeling well, we want to help relieve their symptoms as quickly as possible so they can rest and heal. We go to the medicine cabinet, the pharmacy or the doctor without a second thought. We feed them whatever the product might be that we find on the shelf that says “For Kids” on it and has a colourful packaging with a smiling child on the front.
It’s a comfortable oft-repeated routine, and the carefully positioned marketing makes us feel like we are doing the right thing.
Are you exposing your children to potentially deadly OTC medications?
But have you ever stopped to think whether that product is safe, or an appropriate strength for your child, or has been properly tested on children? And for that matter, children of the right age or weight, or who have a similar constitution and health history to YOUR child. We tend to blindly trust the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the pharmacists and doctors who recommend drugs, because that’s probably how we were treated as a kid. It might not even occur to us that there are other options that might be safer and more health-supporting for children in the long run.
Children are much more vulnerable to drugs
The bodies, organs, digestive systems and brains of little ones are much more vulnerable than we are to the harsh, manipulative chemicals used in pharmaceuticals. They are also less able to communicate how they are feeling, what they’re in need of, or when something is affecting them in the wrong way.
Horen and colleagues found that pediatric outpatients had three times the risk of an adverse drug reaction, compared with adult outpatients, especially when the medication was used for an “off-label” indication – a common practice in pediatrics.
Children and adolescents are at greater risk than adults for medication errors because they have an immature physiology as well as developmental limitations that affect their ability to communicate and self-administer medications. (source)
Dr. Dianne Murphy, director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, writes in this interview:
Know that children can have different adverse reactions to a drug than adults. So for a product that has not been studied in children, it is possible for an adverse effect to occur that may not be listed on the drug’s label.
Children are more sensitive than adults to many drugs. For example, antihistamines and alcohol—common ingredients in cold medications—can have adverse effects at lower doses on young patients, causing excitability or excessive drowsiness. Some [common] drugs, like aspirin, can cause serious illness or even death in children with chickenpox or flu symptoms.
Also, realize that some diseases may be expressed differently in children than in adults, and some drugs don’t work for kids even though they have been proven to work in adults.
The serious adverse events reported with cough and cold products include death, convulsions, rapid heart rates, and decreased levels of consciousness.
The FDA suddenly began recommending that cough and cold medicines not be used on young children in 2008-2009. Previous to this, and probably even now for those who haven’t heard the updated recommendations, how commonly were cough and cold medicines administered to young children? All the time! Toddlers and kids under 10 probably have the highest rates of coughs and colds out of any segment of society. Yet loving parents were/are unknowingly administering them medication containing toxic ingredients because they trust the industry that sells them.
Who knows what the next similar discovery, and sudden 180 switch, will be?
More and more drugs are being prescribed to children
Medication for children, and particularly prescription meds, is currently the fastest-growing sector in the pharmaceutical industry. Check out these details from Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds, an in-depth look at the pharmaceutical industry.
DP: You write about a growing market for drugs for children. You say we know little about the long-term effects of prescription meds on kids. Let’s talk particularly about depression medications and ADHD meds, which seem to be what kids are mostly prescribed.
MP:In recent years, sales of drugs for children have been the industry’s fastest growing business. Doctors now prescribe pills to children for all kinds of conditions — from high cholesterol to anxiety. The market for ADHD drugs has long been a big opportunity for the industry. More recently, the companies have had their sales reps urge doctors to prescribe antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychiatric meds to children. The result: our kids take more of those medicines than children in other countries. For example, a study last year found that American children take three times more attention deficit medications and antidepressants than children in Europe.
DP: Could you tell me how the prescription med industry is in bed with doctors?
MP: The industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars on physicians every year. […] The drug companies pay doctors to be their so-called consultants. They also pay them to sit on corporate advisory boards and to give lectures to other doctors. They pay for up to 80 percent of the continuing medical education that doctors need to maintain their licenses. […] The truth is that doctors are no longer independent gatekeepers who keep us safe from drugs we don’t need. Far too many of them are financially tied to the industry. They are writing the prescriptions that their financial backers want them to write. (source)
I find it extremely frightening that more and more drugs are being marketed to children. Children are showing increasing issues with attention and mood problems, yet does that mean they need medication? I think there are a number of deeper issues at play here. We should not just continue on with our day-to-day consumerist status quo, and then get upset and medicate our children when they don’t behave the way we think they should.
Drugs are rarely tested on children
According to this article from the American Journal of Nursing, most drugs are never actually tested on children, but end up being used on them anyway. The article explains that “the great majority of medications are developed in concentrations appropriate for adults; therefore, pediatric indications and dosage guidelines often aren’t included with a medication”.
Many of the medications of benefit to children in emergency situations and in the treatment of certain diseases have been approved by the FDA only for use in adults. Testing of these medications in children has been thwarted by several barriers inherent to research in children (for example, ethical concerns about using children as clinical trial subjects, the necessity of obtaining parental consent, and the difficulty of enrolling a sufficient number of children).
I can’t help but think that the industry is basically leaving the safety of drugs for children entirely up to chance. They will release a drug on minimal evidence at best, and wait for problems to arise afterward. According to these articles from the FDA website (1, 2):
“Most pediatric clinical trials involve a relatively small number of patients,” says Dianne Murphy, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, and problems might not be detected until the products are in widespread use. And a drug or device might be studied in one pediatric age group, but prescribed and used in another age group in which it has not been studied, she says.
And here is another shocker. Only about half of the medications used to treat children have ever been tested on children, and not necessarily on the appropriate age group. This information is openly posted on the FDA website, however how many people actually know or think about this stuff?
Q: Are medications that are intended for children clinically tested on children?
A: If the product is to be used only for children, then it must be studied in the pediatric population. However, many therapies are developed for adults and then used in children without having been studied in children. Therefore, most marketed products that are mostly used in adults have not been studied in children—even though they may be used by doctors to treat children.
There has been improvement in this area in regard to prescription drugs. As of 2008, an estimated 50 to 60 percent of prescription drugs used to treat children have been studied in some part of the pediatric population. Still, the likelihood that a medicine has actually been studied in neonates—children less than a month old—is close to zero.
So nearly a decade into the 21st Century, most medicines intended for children, including many over-the-counter (OTC) products, haven’t been clinically studied in children—and certainly not in all age populations that comprise the branch of medicine known as “pediatrics.” (source)
It’s easy for mistakes to occur both at home and while in care
Parents frequently medicate children with things they pick up from the drug store that are labelled “for kids”. I certainly was when I was little! However, there can be significant risks that come with these seemingly innocuous remedies:
An April 2011 report from FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) found that confusion caused by the different concentrations of liquid acetaminophen for infants and children was leading to overdoses that made infants seriously ill, with some dying from liver failure.
So to avoid dosing errors, some manufacturers voluntarily changed the liquid acetaminophen marketed for infants from 80 mg per 0.8mL or 80 mg per 1 mL. But this is a voluntary change and some of the older, stronger concentrations of acetaminophen marketed for infants are still available and may remain available.
“There is still some on store shelves; there is still some in homes; and there is still some in distribution [continuing to be sold]”.
Why does this pose a danger?
If a pediatrician prescribes a 5 mL dose of the less concentrated liquid acetaminophen, but the parents administer a 5 mL dose of the more concentrated liquid acetaminophen, the child can receive a potentially fatal overdose during the course of therapy. [all due to a simple communication error!]
It is important to understand that there is no dosing amount specified for children younger than 2 years of age. If you have an infant or child younger than 2 years old, always check with your healthcare provider for dosing instructions. (source)
I know it says ‘check with your healthcare provider’ for dosing instructions for kids younger than 2, but I just have to say that any human / professional / doctor / caregiver can make mistakes. It’s ultimately a judgement call, and I just don’t think it’s worth the risk when there are so many less invasive, less risky options. (to come in article 2!)
Under professional care
When a child is sick, where do we turn for trust-worthy help and care? This article from the American Journal of Nursing explains that a child is not safe under the care of hospital staff either.
Several studies of pediatric inpatients found rates of medication error ranging from 4.5 to 5.7 errors per 100 medication orders.
To me, this rate is very high! Nearly 6 out of every 100 kids are receiving the wrong medicine and therefore being put at risk of adverse effects.
The article goes on to say that doctors frequently use “off-label (sometimes called unlicensed) medications, because the majority of medications FDA approved for children don’t offer many of the therapeutic benefits of off-label medications. It’s safe to use an off-label medication in a child only when its use is fully understood by all clinicians who treat the patient. Because most medications don’t carry information on child-related dosing guidelines, adverse effects, or safety and efficacy information, using medications in off-label applications-that is, without FDA approval for children-puts children at significant risk for error.”
Due to the fact that medications intended for adults are used on children, medical practitioners go on the assumption that a smaller dose will be safe. There are various equations used to calculate appropriate pediatric dosages, however “Clinicians should adjust the dosage according to the patient’s illness and overall medical condition, such as the presence of diseases affecting metabolism of the drug.” (source)
My interpretation of this mess is that giving children medication is basically a judgement call, or crapshoot. Even if a practitioner has the best intentions and tries to take everything into account, it’s easy to make a fatal error.
Misplacement of the decimal point is a common dosing error that can lead to a tenfold error in overdosing or underdosing [of infants and children]. The consequences of such errors include transient renal failure, tachycardia, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. (source)
To me, this makes a MAJOR case for taking the health of children into our own hands and building strong, healthy bodies in the first place. This includes pre-conception (with our own health prior to conceiving) and also during gestation, with good nutrition to build a healthy baby. Then, after birth we can use good food and natural remedies to support a young immune system, so that there is much less chance of illness or resorting to hospital care & drugs.
Poisoning rates are rising, even from meds we used to consider safe
This articles from Forbes, called “More Kids are Dying as Prescription Drug Use Skyrockets” explains that:
According to the latest Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood poisoning deaths increased 80 percent between 2000 and 2009, and prescription drugs accounted for 57 percent of the increase.
And that statistic doesn’t account for any of the issues with over-the-counter (non-prescription) medications. Earlier in this post I mentioned that the FDA stopped recommending use of cough and cold syrup products on young children due to concerns of toxicity and unpredictable effects.
Upon further research I found that it’s estimated that 10% of children don’t have the enzyme required to metabolize the common active ingredient in cough syrups, and there is no way to know whether your child is one of these. It’s essentially playing Russian Roulette with your child’s health, yet 61% of parents still use cough syrup on their children (source).
And all this risk is being taken when honey has been found to be more effective (and much less risky) than cough syrup. It’s time to educate ourselves on natural remedies that don’t present risk of poison or overdose, and support the body to heal itself without creating side effects, resistance or addiction.
Here is another resource which you can check out on your own: 9 medicines not to give your toddler
Are your children at risk? Protect your children by using natural remedies
Sorry for all the doom and gloom, but I hope that this article has given you some valuable food for thought!!
Stay tuned for the next 2 articles in this series; they will be much more action-oriented and optimistic! I will link to them as they are completed over the next few days. (Here is Part 2: Safe Natural & Effective Remedies for Kids, and How to Detox Your Medicine Cabinet)
We will look at safer, more natural remedies that help support the health and growing bodies of little ones.