RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For years, evidence has been mounting that drugs containing codeine or the narcotic tramadol can be dangerous for children. The Food and Drug Administration now says kids under 12 should not take prescription medications that contain those narcotics. Here's NPR's Rebecca Herscher.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: These new restrictions don't apply to over-the-counter medications, like cough syrups. But all prescription medicines that contain codeine or the narcotic tramadol will now carry a warning on the label explaining the dangerous symptoms they can cause. Dr. Judith Racoosin is the FDA's deputy director of safety for the division that handles anesthesia, pain meds and drugs with addictive properties.
JUDITH RACOOSIN: The symptoms are going to be the same as associated with any kind of opioid overdose. So that is sleepiness. That is respiratory depression, difficulty breathing.
HERSHER: Which can lead to death. Between 1969 and 2015, the FDA says 24 people under 18 died after taking medicines with codeine in them. And there were 40 cases reported of serious breathing problems in kids. The danger appears to be bigger for younger children. Of those who died, 21 of them were under 12 years old. The new restrictions also apply to women who are breastfeeding and to adolescents who have breathing problems, like lung disease or sleep apnea. Diana Zuckerman is the president of the consumer group the National Center for Health Research.
DIANA ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's long overdue.
HERSHER: More than a year ago, an independent advisory committee told the FDA it should take this action. And Zuckerman is frustrated it's taken so long. She says the consensus is that the risks of codeine outweigh the benefits for kids.
ZUCKERMAN: You know, just remember when kids have colds, those colds are going to go away by themselves.
HERSHER: The FDA is still considering changes for over-the-counter drugs that contain codeine. Some states have taken their own action by putting age restrictions on who can buy them.
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ZUCKERMAN: I think the best advice for parents is to remember that they shouldn't be giving medications to the children if the children don't really need it.
HERSHER: For parents who want to avoid codeine, most popular meds for cough and flu symptoms list their active ingredients prominently on the front of the package. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
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