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Pharm World Sci. 2007 Aug;29(4):361-7. Epub 2007 Mar 10.

Unlicensed and off-label use of medicines at a neonatology clinic in Italy.

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Pharmacy University Hospital Policlinico, Piazza Giulio Cesare, 11, Bari, Italy.



Many drugs used for children are not licensed or are used off-label. An increased risk of medication errors and unexpected adverse drug reactions (ADR) associated with off-label and unlicensed drug prescription has been reported. This risk increases in the newborn, who are more likely to be predisposed to an ADR due to their physiological immaturity. The objective of this study was to describe the use of unlicensed or off-label drugs in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).


All drugs prescribed to newborn admitted to the Neonatology Unit of Bari University Hospital, from July 1st to August 31st in 2004 were recorded.


All the drugs prescribed were analysed with regard to their license status, then the licensed drugs were compared to the indications, dose, route of administration, duration of treatment, contraindications and warnings specified in the summary of product characteristics of the marketing authorization.


Data were collected on 176 prescriptions for 61 different drugs given to 34 newborns. Drugs were licensed in 88% and unlicensed in 12% of cases. About the licensed drugs, in 37.5% medicines were used following the terms of the marketing authorization, in 22.7% of cases medicines were used in an off-label manner as they contained no information for paediatric use in the marketing authorization and in 27.8% of cases medicines were licensed for paediatric use, but they were used off-label with regard to age, dose, route of administration and duration of treatment.


Despite European and American initiatives aiming to promote greater awareness and research in the paediatric population, these data demonstrate that there is still a high percentage of unlicensed or off-label drugs use in neonatology, underlining the need to stimulate scientific data collection by means of experimental studies or outcome research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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