Label changes improve children's medicine safety

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013

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Parents should feel more confident they are giving children the right amount of Pamol, thanks to changes in dosage instructions announced yesterday.

Liquid paracetamol and ibuprofen will now have to include dosage instructions based both on a child's age and weight.

Previously, only one was required and the instructions could differ between brands.

Medsafe, one of the organisations behind the change, said the instructions would be far less confusing for parents, especially when different brands were used.

Wellington GP Cathy Stephenson welcomed the announcement.

"I think it's a really long overdue decision."

She believed the current system requiring only one of either age or weight on labels was risky. "A child of 2 could vary by as much 5 or 10 kilograms.

"The risk is either underdosing - then you're not giving them pain relief or bringing their temperature down - but the much more important risk is overdosing."

Children's medicine specialist David Reith said people often misunderstood the dangers.

In recent years children had suffered serious health complications, including liver failure, from overdoses, he said.

Past cases included a 3-year-old boy taken to hospital in 2010 after his liver failed when his dehydrated body could not handle the recommended paracetamol dose.

In the past year, 18 patients have had suspected adverse reactions, including cardiac abnormalities, from paracetamol, and 33 from ibuprofen, according to Ministry of Health reports.

In the past 10 years, six people suffered liver complications after taking paracetamol and five after ibuprofen.

Dr Reith recommended people use the weight-based dosages if they could, but thought age instructions were also necessary.

"Parents don't always know their child's weight, and the information on the package is actually for parents, not health professionals."

Plunket clinical adviser Allison Jamieson thought the consistency across brands would make life easier for many families.

"One of the things that's been a problem is there are different products that have different labels."

Plunketline staff frequently fielded calls from parents concerned about how much paracetamol or ibuprofen to give, she said.

As part of the changes, the dosages on liquid ibuprofen boxes would also need to be based on giving the medicine either three or four times a day.

A deadline for the labelling requirements has not been set yet, though it is likely to be in two years' time.

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- The Dominion Post

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