Study Slams Kids Medicine Dosing Instructions

The instructions that are supposed to help parents deliver a correct dose of over-the-counter (OTC) liquid medications to kids are confusing to the point of being slipshod, leaving children vulnerable to either overdose (which can be fatal) or under-dose, new research has found.

A study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at 200 top-selling pain reliever/fever reducer, cough/cold, allergy and gastrointestinal children’s liquid nonprescription medicines. Here’s what the researchers found, and what you should watch out for:

• 26 percent of the products did not include a cup, spoon, syringe or other dosing device;

• 24 percent of dosing devices did not have markings indicating the exact dose to be delivered; and

• In 89 percent of the dosing devices, the units of measure (i.e. milliliters, teaspoons, etc.) on the device did not match the units of measure listed on package instructions.

Worse, manufacturers of these medications can’t seem to agree on a standard unit of measure. The study found milliliters, cubic centimeters, teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces and drams on various packages they examined.

In a JAMA editorial accompanying the study, Darren A. DeWalt, M.D., compared the behavior of drug companies – which spend billions of dollars developing, testing and marketing medications – to a gymnast who performs a perfect routine and then botches the dismount. What good does it do to create a helpful children’s medication, he asks, if you don’t make sure that it’s used correctly?

Until manufacturers start to rectify this problem, take care when giving your child medication. Make sure that you have a measuring device in the package or from your pharmacist, and that its markings match your dosing instructions. And if you have any doubts about how much medication to give, ask your doctor.

Meantime, you can read the full JAMA editorial

–  Christina Elston

Posted Dec. 2010