The accidental drug overdose of actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins brought the problem to light.
Now a new detection technique is showing just how glaring that problem is.
According to the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality, for every 100 hospitalized children, 11 will suffer a drug-related harmful event. Some researchers put the figure at 1 in 15. And some children have more than one run-in with bad medicine.
And researchers are sounding the alarm, demanding "aggressive, evidence-based prevention strategies."
The reason for the unholy high rate?
Some of the usual suspects surface doctor fatigue, an avalanche of patients and simple miscalculations. The metric system even comes in to play. Because children are weighed in pounds and ounces, those figures must be translated into kilograms, since kilograms are used for calculating doses of medicine. Errors result. Hospitals need to start weighing all children in kilograms to make sure the math gets done right. Also, at times, adult products are repackaged for children without adequate warnings.
On the plus side, most of the problems caused have been relatively mild. No fatalities have been found, though the potential for serious damage has been noted. Also, more than half the problems were related to powerful painkillers that produced allergic reactions. So some of the issues can be localized.
Still, the statistics do seem to show a certain casualness on the part of health-care professionals when they give drugs to children. Jetliners apparently get more quality monitoring than young patients. Parents, too, need to do their part. Actor Quaid suggests that parents make sure they know what is being administered to their children and why. Parental knowledge is a good backup for catching mistakes.
A more comprehensive approach is also called for in order to separate very dangerous problems from those that are less serious. That will require voluntary reporting by hospital staffers, along with new techniques for detecting errors sooner.