Relabeling Prevents Misuse of Children’s Medication

In 2007, drug manufacturers pulled a variety of children’s medications from the market as consumers began misusing the medication. Today, research suggests that improved labeling has prevented misuse.

The change was simple: instead of warning parents that the medications were intended for children younger than two, they placed a warning on the box saying that the products should not be given to any children less than four years old.

Preliminary government research showed that, since the labels were revised, the number of toddler hospital visits related to medication misuse has significantly dropped. One doctor (and former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on drugs) said that “the label is a very powerful tool for changing parent behavior.”

Statistics from 2007 to 2011

The journal Pediatrics published a study indicating that children less than two years old accounted for 4.1% of medication-related hospital visits. Four years after the label revision, toddlers only account for 2.4% of these hospital visits.

In the same amount of time, the amount of children between two and three years old who were taken to the hospital for medication misuse dropped from 9.5% to 6.5%.

Increased Visits for Older Children

Although the number of young children (less than three years old) who went to the hospital for a drug-related illness decreased, the percentage of older children (4 and up) increased. In 2007, 5.6% of drug misuse cases involved four and five year old children; in 2011, this number grew to 6.5%.

“We’re making great progress in under-twos, and we’re making relatively good progress in two to three,” said a Seattle spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, “But we’d like better news for kids over four.”

A blog posted on states that the increase could reopen the children’s medication debate: Should parents give their kids cough and cold medicine at all?” Some experts believe that cold medication is ineffective in children less than six years old; giving it to them could cause more harm than good.

How to Prevent Medication Misuse

According to, some medication-related injuries are caused by parental misuse; others occur when a children takes the medication without his / her parents’ knowledge. These types of injuries can be the result of mislabeling, too.

“Two-year-olds don’t look at labels; they just look at colors,” said one doctor. He also added that children are likely to try medication if it looks appealing and tastes like candy.

Although most pediatric liquid acetaminophen bottles come with some form of “flow restriction,” cold and cough medications are not equipped with these safeguards. If they were, a large number of preventable drug misuse cases could be avoided.