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codeine FDA Alerts

The FDA Alert(s) below may be specifically about codeine or relate to a group or class of drugs which include codeine.

MedWatch Safety Alerts are distributed by the FDA and published by Drugs.com. Following is a list of possible medication recalls, market withdrawals, alerts and warnings. For the latest FDA MedWatch alerts, go here.

Recent FDA Alert(s) for codeine

Codeine and Tramadol Medicines: Drug Safety Communication - Restricting Use in Children, Recommending Against Use in Breastfeeding Women

Apr 20, 2017

Audience: Pediatrics, OB/GYN, Internal Medicine

ISSUE: FDA is restricting the use of codeine and tramadol medicines in children. These medicines carry serious risks, including slowed or difficult breathing and death, which appear to be a greater risk in children younger than 12 years, and should not be used in these children. These medicines should also be limited in some older children. Single-ingredient codeine and all tramadol-containing products are FDA-approved only for use in adults. FDA is also recommending against the use of codeine and tramadol medicines in breastfeeding mothers due to possible harm to their infants.

As a result, FDA is requiring several changes to the labels of all prescription medicines containing these drugs. These new actions further limit the use of these medicines beyond the 2013 FDA restriction of codeine use in children younger than 18 years to treat pain after surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids. FDA is now adding:

  • FDA’s strongest warning, called a Contraindication, to the drug labels of codeine and tramadol alerting that codeine should not be used to treat pain or cough and tramadol should not be used to treat pain in children younger than 12 years.
  • A new Contraindication to the tramadol label warning against its use in children younger than 18 years to treat pain after surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids.
  • A new Warning to the drug labels of codeine and tramadol to recommend against their use in adolescents between 12 and 18 years who are obese or have conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea or severe lung disease, which may increase the risk of serious breathing problems.
  • A strengthened Warning to mothers that breastfeeding is not recommended when taking codeine or tramadol medicines due to the risk of serious adverse reactions in breastfed infants. These can include excess sleepiness, difficulty breastfeeding, or serious breathing problems that could result in death.

See the FDA Drug Safety Communication for a data summary, a list of approved drugs containing codeine and tramadol, and additional information.

BACKGROUND: Codeine is approved to treat pain and cough, and tramadol is approved to treat pain.

RECOMMENDATION: Health care professionals should be aware that tramadol and single-ingredient codeine medicines are FDA-approved only for use in adults. Consider recommending over-the-counter (OTC) or other FDA-approved prescription medicines for cough and pain management in children younger than 12 years and in adolescents younger than 18 years, especially those with certain genetic factors, obesity, or obstructive sleep apnea and other breathing problems. Cough is often secondary to infection, not serious, and usually will get better on its own so treatment may not be necessary.

Caregivers and patients should always read the label on prescription bottles to find out if a medicine contains codeine or tramadol. You can also ask your child’s health care provider or a pharmacist. Watch closely for signs of breathing problems in a child of any age who is taking these medicines or in infants exposed to codeine or tramadol through breastmilk. These signs include slow or shallow breathing, difficulty or noisy breathing, confusion, more than usual sleepiness, trouble breastfeeding, or limpness. If you notice any of these signs, stop giving the medicine and seek medical attention immediately by going to an emergency room or calling 911.

Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

[04/20/2017 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA]

Codeine Cough-and-Cold Medicines in Children: Drug Safety Communication - FDA Evaluating Potential Risk of Serious Side Effects

Jul 1, 2015

Audience: Family Practice, Pediatrics, Surgery, Patient

ISSUE: FDA is investigating the safety of using codeine-containing medicines to treat coughs and colds in children under 18 years because of the potential for serious side effects, including slowed or difficult breathing.

Children, especially those who already have breathing problems, may be more susceptible to these serious side effects. In 2013, FDA warned against using codeine in children who recently had surgery to remove their tonsils and/or adenoids.

In April 2015, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that codeine must not be used to treat cough and cold in children under 12 years, and that codeine is not recommended in children and adolescents between 12 and 18 years who have breathing problems, including those with asthma and other chronic breathing problems.

FDA will continue to evaluate this safety issue and will consider the EMA recommendations. Final conclusions and recommendations will be communicated when the FDA review is complete.

BACKGROUND: Codeine is a specific type of narcotic medicine called an opioid that is used to treat mild to moderate pain and also to reduce coughing. It is usually combined with other medications in prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) cough-and-cold medicines.

RECOMMENDATION: Parents and caregivers who notice any signs of slow or shallow breathing, difficult or noisy breathing, confusion, or unusual sleepiness in their child should stop giving their child codeine and seek medical attention immediately by taking their child to the emergency room or calling 911. Parents and caregivers should always read the product label to find out if a medicine contains codeine and talk with their child’s health care professional or a pharmacist if they have any questions or concerns. Health care professionals should continue to follow the recommendations in the drug labels and use caution when prescribing or recommending codeine-containing cough-and-cold medicines to children.

Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:


[07/01/2015 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA]
[07/01/2015 - Codeine Information - FDA]

Codeine Use in Certain Children After Tonsillectomy and/or Adenoidectomy: Drug Safety Communication - Risk of Rare, But Life-Threatening Adverse Events or Death

Feb 20, 2013

Audience: Pediatricians, Surgery, Consumer

[UPDATED 02/20/2013] FDA notified the public about new actions being taken to address a known safety concern with codeine use in certain children after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy (surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids). A new BOXED WARNING, FDA’s strongest warning, will be added to the drug label of codeine-containing products about the risk of codeine in post-operative pain management in children following tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy. A Contraindication, which is a formal means for FDA to make a strong recommendation against use of a drug in certain patients, will be added to restrict codeine from being used in this setting. The Warnings/Precautions, Pediatric Use, and Patient Counseling Information sections of the drug label will also be updated.

Health care professionals should prescribe an alternate analgesic for post-operative pain control in children who are undergoing tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy. Codeine should not be used for pain in children following these procedures.

For management of other types of pain in children, codeine should only be used if the benefits are anticipated to outweigh the risks. 

 

[Posted 08/15/2012]

ISSUE: The FDA is reviewing reports of children who developed serious adverse effects or died after taking codeine for pain relief after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Recently, three pediatric deaths and one non-fatal but life-threatening case of respiratory depression were documented in the medical literature.

These children (ages two to five) had evidence of an inherited (genetic) ability to convert codeine into life-threatening or fatal amounts of morphine in the body. All children had received doses of codeine that were within the typical dose range.

BACKGROUND: When codeine is ingested, it is converted to morphine in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6). Some people have DNA variations that make this enzyme more active, causing codeine to be converted to morphine faster and more completely than in other people. These “ultra-rapid metabolizers” are more likely to have higher than normal amounts of morphine in their blood after taking codeine. High levels of morphine can result in breathing difficulty, which may be fatal. Taking codeine after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy may increase the risk for breathing problems and death in children who are “ultra-rapid metabolizers.” See the FDA Drug Safety Communication for additional information, including a Data Summary.

RECOMMENDATION: Health care professionals should be aware of the risks of using codeine in children, particularly in those who have undergone tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. If prescribing codeine-containing drugs, the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time should be used on an as-needed basis (i.e., not scheduled around the clock).

Parents and caregivers who observe unusual sleepiness, confusion, or difficult or noisy breathing in their child should seek medical attention immediately, as these are signs of overdose.


Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

 

[02/20/2013 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA]
[08/15/2012 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA] 
[08/15/2012 - Consumer Update - FDA]
 

Codeine Use in Certain Children After Tonsillectomy and/or Adenoidectomy: Drug Safety Communication - Risk of Rare, But Life-Threatening Adverse Events or Death

Aug 15, 2012

Audience: Pediatricians, Surgery, Consumer

ISSUE: The FDA is reviewing reports of children who developed serious adverse effects or died after taking codeine for pain relief after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Recently, three pediatric deaths and one non-fatal but life-threatening case of respiratory depression were documented in the medical literature.

These children (ages two to five) had evidence of an inherited (genetic) ability to convert codeine into life-threatening or fatal amounts of morphine in the body. All children had received doses of codeine that were within the typical dose range.

BACKGROUND: When codeine is ingested, it is converted to morphine in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6). Some people have DNA variations that make this enzyme more active, causing codeine to be converted to morphine faster and more completely than in other people. These “ultra-rapid metabolizers” are more likely to have higher than normal amounts of morphine in their blood after taking codeine. High levels of morphine can result in breathing difficulty, which may be fatal. Taking codeine after tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy may increase the risk for breathing problems and death in children who are “ultra-rapid metabolizers.” See the FDA Drug Safety Communication for additional information, including a Data Summary.

RECOMMENDATION: Health care professionals should be aware of the risks of using codeine in children, particularly in those who have undergone tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. If prescribing codeine-containing drugs, the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time should be used on an as-needed basis (i.e., not scheduled around the clock).

Parents and caregivers who observe unusual sleepiness, confusion, or difficult or noisy breathing in their child should seek medical attention immediately, as these are signs of overdose.


Healthcare professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA's MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

 

[08/15/2012 - Drug Safety Communication - FDA] 
[08/15/2012 - Consumer Update - FDA]
 

Codeine Products Used By Nursing Mothers

Aug 17, 2007

Audience: Obstetricians, pediatricians, other healthcare professionals, consumers

[Posted 08/17/2007] FDA issued a Public Health Advisory with important new information about a very rare, but serious, side effect in nursing infants whose mothers are taking codeine and are ultra-rapid metabolizers of codeine. When codeine enters the body and is metabolized, it changes to morphine, which relieves pain. Many factors affect codeine metabolism, including a person’s genetic make-up. Some people have a variation in a liver enzyme and may change codeine to morphine more rapidly and completely than other people. Nursing mothers taking codeine may also have higher morphine levels in their breast milk. These higher levels of morphine in breast milk may lead to life-threatening or fatal side effects in nursing babies. In most cases, it is unknown if someone is an ultra-rapid codeine metabolizer.

When prescribing codeine-containing drugs to nursing mothers, physicians should choose the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time and should closely monitor mother-infant pairs. There is an FDA cleared test for determining a patient’s CYP2D6 genotype. The test is not routinely used in clinical practice but is available through a number of different laboratories. The results of this test predict that a person can convert codeine to morphine at a faster rate than average, resulting in higher morphine levels in the blood. When levels of morphine are too high, patients have an increased risk of adverse events.

[August 17, 2007]

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