Sales of Children's Cold Remedies Drop

Laura R. Moorer, of Rockville, and her husband decided not to give their daughter, Katie, 2 1/2, over-the-counter cold remedies when she was sick.
Laura R. Moorer, of Rockville, and her husband decided not to give their daughter, Katie, 2 1/2, over-the-counter cold remedies when she was sick. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sales of over-the-counter cold remedies for children have fallen sharply since a federal panel concluded they should not be used for children younger than 6 because of a dearth of evidence that they work and concerns they can be dangerous.

Even though the winter cold season has begun, sales of the products, which have been rising steadily for years, dropped more than 16 percent in the four weeks that ended Nov. 3, compared both with the previous four-week period and with the same period last year, according to the first estimates since the panel's Oct. 19 pronouncement.

"Historically, sales of these products are on an upswing at this time of year," said Jennifer C. Frighetto of ACNielsen, a market research firm that tracks the sales. "Based on the historical sales, one would have expected to see an increase, not a decrease."

Americans spent $21.1 million on the medications during the four weeks, the most recent period for which data is available, down from a little more than $25.3 million during the previous four weeks, the firm reported.

"This is good news," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein, who is leading the drive to get the Food and Drug Administration to restrict use of the products. "This is a plus for child health. Fewer parents are giving unproven and potentially unsafe drugs to their children."

The pharmaceutical industry, however, maintains that the remedies are safe and effective, and said it is too soon to attribute the drop to the recent criticisms of them.

"It's premature to make the connection that a drop in sales is directly the result," said Elizabeth A. Funderburk of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. "It's not surprising at this point to see that drop, given that it's been a mild cold season so far this year."

Several pediatricians disagreed, saying they had seen many parents in recent weeks who said they had stopped giving the medications to their children since hearing about the warnings.

"It really frightened a lot of parents," said Joanna Sexter of Spring Valley Pediatrics in the District. "Sometimes these stories come out, and parents challenge it and pooh-pooh it. This time, that didn't happen. I've had a lot of parents say they just threw it all away."

That was the case for Laura R. Moorer, a law librarian from Rockville. Even though she thinks the remedies have helped her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Katie, in the past, Moorer and her husband decided not to use any when she was hit by a bad cold several weeks ago.

"We kept her home from preschool and watched her spend several days in misery, and I felt bad we could not do something to alleviate the coughing and discomfort she was feeling," Moorer said. "But I was also concerned enough not to let her use the medication. So we went back to home remedies: elevated pillow, humidifier, steamy shower, not much milk, clear fluids and extra TLC."

Moorer said all of her friends have also sworn off the products, but some parents have not.

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