Medication Mistakes Affect 1 Child Every 8 Minutes

A little girl lays in med while her mom prepares a dose of medicine for her.
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Every 8 minutes, a child in the United States is affected by a medication error on the part of their parents or caregivers, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers found that 63,000 children younger than age 6 were affected yearly by out-of-hospital medication errors between 2002 and 2012, and most of those mistakes occurred at the children's homes.

"Some of these errors have very serious consequences," said study author Dr. Huiyun Xiang, the director of the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. During the study, 25 children died from medication errors, and 4,658 had to be hospitalized.

The researchers also found that the number of errors involving the use of cough and cold medications decreased by 59 percent between 2002 and 2012, but the number of errors related to the use of all other medications increased by almost 43 percent.

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began recommending against the use of cough and cold medicines in children younger than age 6 because there was no evidence that these medicines were effective for young children, and the side effects from using them were common. The American Academy of Pediatrics agreed with this recommendation. In 2008, manufacturers removed over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children younger than 2, and relabeled their products to warn against using them in children younger than 4.

"Our study and others have found a significant decrease in cough and cold medication errors in the years since" those recommendations, Xiang told Live Science.

It is not clear why the errors with all other types of medications increased, but it may have something to do with the increasing use of painkillers and antihistamines, which are commonly used for allergies, in young children, Xiang said. [9 Weird Ways Kids Can Get Hurt]

Painkillers were the drugs most commonly involved in medication errors, accounting for 25 percent of all medication errors, whereas the use of antihistamines was involved in 15 percent of the cases.

More than 25 percent of errors were attributed to inadvertently taking or being given medication twice, when only one dose was needed, according to the study.

The researchers also found that the younger the children were, the more likely they were to experience medication errors. Children younger than 1 were involved in about 25 percent of the cases in the study.

"Very young children may not be able to communicate well with parents and caregivers, and so are unable to tell those adults that they have already taken the medication," to avoid a double-dosing error, Xiang said. This may partially explain why this group was more vulnerable to those errors.

Both public health interventions and greater efforts on the part of parents could be helpful in preventing medication errors, he said.

The decrease in the use of cough-and-cold medications shown in the study shows that public health interventions can make a difference, Xiang said.

He also recommended that parents use smartphone apps to schedule and track their children's medication doses, and use the measuring cups provided with liquid medications to give accurate doses to their kids, instead of using less accurate devices, such as kitchen spoons.

Anyone who thinks a child may have experienced a medication error should call the national poison control hotline at 800-222-1222. Parents and caregivers should keep that number saved in their cellphones, he said.

The study is published today (Oct. 20) in the journal Pediatrics.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Staff Writer