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Paediatr Anaesth. 2017 Jan;27(1):19-27. doi: 10.1111/pan.13033. Epub 2016 Oct 25.

Codeine use among children in the United States: a nationally representative study from 1996 to 2013.

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Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA.



Concerns regarding the safety of codeine have been raised. Cases of life-threatening respiratory depression and death in children have been attributed to codeine's polymorphic metabolic pathway. International health agencies recommend restricted use of codeine in children. Despite these recommendations, the epidemiology of codeine use among children remains unknown.


Our objective was to examine patterns of codeine use in the US among children.


A cross-sectional analysis of children of age 0-17 years from 1996 to 2013 in the US was performed. Data were extracted from MEPS, a nationally representative set of health care surveys. Prevalence rates of codeine use between 1996 and 2013 were examined. Multivariable logistic regression examined relationships between codeine use and patient demographics.


Codeine use remained largely unchanged from 1996 to 2013 (1.08 vs 1.03 million children, respectively). Odds of codeine use was higher in ages 12-17 (OR, 1.40; [1.21-1.61]), outside of the Northeastern US, and among those with poor physical health status (OR, 3.29 [1.79-6.03]). Codeine use was lower in children whose ethnicity was not white and those uninsured (OR, 0.47 [0.34-0.63]). Codeine was most frequently prescribed by emergency physicians (18%) and dentists (14%). The most common condition associated with codeine use was trauma-related pain.


Pediatric codeine use has declined since 1996; however, more than 1 million children still used codeine in 2013. Health care providers must be made aware of guidelines advising against the use of codeine in children. Codeine is potentially hazardous and safer alternatives to treat children's pain are available.


adolescents; analgesics; child; narcotics; opioids; pediatrics

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