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Codeine Rx for New Mothers Trending Down

Rx poses danger for ultra-rapid codeine metabolizers who breastfeed

TUESDAY, May 12, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer new mothers have been prescribed codeine since public health officials warned about a rare, but potential risk of overdose for breastfeeding babies, according to study results reported in the May 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The trend is going in the direction we want it," lead researcher Kate Smolina, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told HealthDay. On the other hand, she added, a significant number of women were still being prescribed codeine in 2011 -- three to four years after U.S. and Canadian health officials first issued their warnings. "Prescriptions are still too high," Smolina said. "We'd like to see it closer to zero."

For the new study, Smolina's team looked at data on codeine prescriptions to all women who gave birth in British Columbia between 2002 and 2011. They found that in the years before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning, an average of 17 percent of new mothers filled a codeine prescription in the six months after giving birth. That had declined to 9 percent by the end of 2011 -- a 45 percent drop across the four years that followed the FDA advisory.

Smolina's team did find that as codeine prescriptions went down, those for some other opioids went up -- including oxycodone (Oxycontin), tramadol (Ultram), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid). There's no evidence that those medications can harm breastfeeding babies, Smolina said. Still, she noted, it's not certain that they are completely safe either.

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