Report calls into question marketing of OTC cold medicines for children

BOSTON The Prescription Project on Thursday released a report showing that companies producing over-the-counter cough and cold medicines spent more than $50 million marketing these products for children under the age of 6 despite evidence of risks and lack of effectiveness in treating children.

The report, titled Risk With No Benefit: The Marketing of Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medications for Children, was released to coincide with today’s Food and Drug Administration’s Nonprescription Drug Advisory Committee hearing on the potential dangers of these products for children under the age of 6.

The Prescription Project report, which analyzed FDA, industry, and epidemiological documents on OTC remedies, found a lack of efficacy data but a significant number of reported injuries and deaths associated with overdosing of these products. “Especially when it comes to over-the-counter drugs, physicians and patients rely on the FDA to ‘calculate’ the benefits versus risks and communicate this to the public,” stated John Santa, a consultant to the Prescription Project and former medical director of the Drug Effectiveness Review Project. “In this case, it appears the benefits are close to zero while the risks are significant.”

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association contends that OTC cough and cold medicines administered to children over the age of two, when used as directed, is safe and effective. Overdosing and misuse, such as using an antihistamine to sedate a child, are legitimate concerns, the Association has noted, that should be addressed through increased education. 

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