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Should promethazine in liquid form be available without prescription?

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      Promethazine, available by prescription only since its introduction in 1946, has been widely used for pediatric patients because of its antihistaminic, antiemetic, and sedative properties. Recently, it's makers have sought Federal Drug Administration approval to introduce two liquid over the counter allergy/cold/cough products containing promethazine as an active ingredient. Although millions of doses have been administered, promethazine use has not been free of risk. Promethazine has been reported to cause significant sedation, agitation, hallucinations, seizures, dystonic reactions, and possibly apparent life-threatening events or sudden infant death syndrome. The impact of these relatively uncommon adverse reactions on children would be minimal if parents would use over the counter promethazine only for appropriate indications and only in children greater than 2 years of age. However, according to results of research evaluating the use of various over the counter medications by families for their children, promethazine will be used inappropriately. Both its over the counter status, implying a certain margin of safety, and its formulation as a syrup, providing ease of administration, should increase its use in all age groups including that by children less than 2 years of age who may be most vulnerable to the adverse reactions associated with the drug's use.

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      [1 ] Dept of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232-5577.
      Aug 1990
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