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Signs of a sane approach to kids’ cold medicine

Submitted by on Friday, 5 June 2009 No Comment

After two winters of tumult as the Food and Drug Administration danced the children’s cold-medicine hokey-pokey, finally there’s a report with a conclusion other than recall it all.

Researchers in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin questioned 182 caregivers, mostly mothers, as part of the study published in this month’s issue of “Pediatrics.“After those caregivers were confused about what medicines were safe for babies, the study concluded that better labeling is needed.

The confused group was not uneducated: The average level was a bit better than high-school graduate and 99 percent were literate, though only 17 percent had math skills beyond ninth grade.

After reviewing labels on a number of products formerly marketed as “infant” cold medicines, half the time study participants concluded that the medicine was safe for children younger than 2.

This is troubling on two fronts.

One:  Most manufacturers pulled such products from the market a year and a half ago, as the FDA issued an advisory against their use.

Two: Even before that advisory, the labels clearly directed parents to consult doctors about use for children younger than 2.

Both the advisory and the recall drew massive coverage in every medium imaginable, as well as excited chatter at day care centers. Evidently a sizable number of parents missed both the coverage and chatter.

That’s actually not hard to believe if you’re talking about parents who aren’t news junkies and whose children aren’t in day care. Or if the parents were under the influence of someone who thinks cough syrup cures everything. I’ve had many arguments on that count. I’ve even been accused of cruelty for not dosing up my asthmatic child.

The confusion about the products, researchers believe, comes from misleading graphics on the label that lead those who only glance at the product to believe it’s safe for babies. Apparently you can write all the warnings you want, but when there’s a teddy bear on the bottle, people believe the bear.

The study concludes that the FDA and manufacturers should work to make labels more understandable. It’s a conclusion that makes much more sense than previous moves to pull all products off the market for children under 6.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that the recommendation will be followed. Not with Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, one of the leaders of the “parents are too stupid to use products safely” movement, as No. 2 at the FDA.

But at least there’s finally an official report willing to give some parents some credit for common sense, rather than recommending an end to a product that, yes, some of us need from time to time.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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