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Is Your Child Taking Any of These Unsafe Cough and Cold Medicines?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
No more codeine in cough meds for kids says FDA

Did you know that in some states cough and cold medicines containing codeine and hydrocodone are available over the counter for children? Here’s what you need to look for in your medicine cabinet to help you find out if your child is taking any unsafe cough and cold medicines.


Reports of flu-related deaths are making headlines this winter season. But what makes these reports especially alarming is that the flu is taking the lives of seemingly otherwise relatively young and healthy people.

Here’s What You Should Do Each Day When a Cold or Flu Hits

However, not all cases may be directly caused by the flu, but by the medications many take to combat their illness as discussed earlier in this article: Death from Cold or Flu Could Happen from Too Much of These Medications Taken Together.

As it turns out, taking too much of some medicines is easier than you would think, and not just in prescription, but over-the-counter as well; some states sell OTC cough and cold meds containing codeine and or hydrocodone in doses that are unsafe for those 18 and younger.

In the past and currently, codeine and hydrocodone are available in combination with other medicines (such as antihistamines and decongestants) in prescription medicines to treat coughs and symptoms associated with allergies or the common cold. Codeine and hydrocodone are narcotic medicines called opioids and can carry serious risks when used in children.

New FDA Safety Alert for Physicians and Parents

However, an extensive review made by the FDA determined that the risks of slowed or difficult breathing, misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, and death with cough and cold medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone actually outweighs their benefits in patients’ younger than 18.

According to a recent safety alert from the FDA, the FDA is requiring safety labeling changes for prescription cough and cold medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone to limit the use of these products to adults 18 years and older because the risks of these medicines outweigh their benefits. In addition, the FDA is also requiring that manufacturers add safety information in the “Boxed Warning” about the risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, death, and slowed or difficult breathing—especially those for prescription cough and cold medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone.

This will result in that there will no longer be a recommended age/dosage range on prescription opioid cough and cold medicines as before, as these products will no longer be indicated for use in children 18 and younger. The FDA points out that the use of opioids is unnecessary due to alternative medicines are available that include over-the-counter products such as dextromethorphan, and prescription benzonatate products.

Advice for Parents

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The FDA advises parents to be aware that opioid-containing cough and cold medicines are no longer recommended for children and that they should always read the labels on prescription bottles. If the medicine prescribed for your child contains an opioid, talk to your child’s health care professional about a different, non-opioid medicine, or if you have any questions or concerns. Furthermore, some states sell OTC cough and cold medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone and should be not used.

Here is a List of Prescription Cough and Cold Medicines Containing Codeine or Hydrocodone to Look for in Your Medicine Cabinet:

Tuxarin ER, Tuzistra XR: Contains codeine, chlorpheniramine

Triacin C: Contains codeine, pseudoephedrine, tripolidine

FlowTuss, Obredon: Contains hydrocodone, guaifenesin

Hycofenix, Rezira: Contains hydrocodone, pseudoephedrine, guaifenesin

Tussionex Pennkinetic, Vituz: Contains hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine

Zutripro: Contains hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine, pseudoephedrine

Also Note: You should also carefully observe the labels of generics as well. Some may contain codeine with phenylephrine (a nasal decongestant that provides relief from nasal discomfort caused by colds, allergies, and hay fever) or with promethazine (used to treat allergic reactions and to treat or prevent nausea and vomiting from illness or motion sickness); hydrocodone and homatropine (Homatropine is a drug that works against the narcotic to prevent an overdose of this medication. Homatropine with hydrocodone is a common combination medicine used to treat cough).

For more about how to handle the cold and flu this year, here is The Only Cold and Flu Guide You Will Ever Need This Season.

Reference: FDA.gov Safety Alerts for Human Medical Products “Prescription Opioid Cough and Cold Medicines: Drug Safety Communication—FDA Requires Labeling Changes” Jan. 11, 2018

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