Don't Give Children Sedatives at Home


Some medical and dental procedures require people to remain still for a long time. This is almost impossible for young children. Medical procedures like certain X-rays, CT scans, or MRI tests can also be scary to children. To help, the doctor or dentist may prescribe a sedative for a child before the procedure.

These medicines are safely given in doses based on the child's age and weight. Enough medicine is given to help the child relax, but not to interfere with breathing. The most common medicines used for this purpose are chloral hydrate and Versed (midazolam).

Sometimes doctors or dentists ask parents to give their children the sedative at home before coming to the hospital or office. This is not a safe practice! The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that only skilled medical personnel, like nurses or doctors, should give children these medicines after they arrive at the facility. Trained professionals will then be available to help, just in case the child unexpectedly has trouble breathing.

Sadly, a few children have died because they received too much of a sedative at home. In one case, a pharmacy filled a prescription for chloral hydrate using a more concentrated syrup than the doctor intended. So there was a larger dose of medicine in each teaspoon. At home, the child received two times more medicine than he should have and stopped breathing. Another parent accidentally gave his child a very large overdose. A pharmacist misread a prescription for chloral hydrate and gave the parents a bottle containing 120 mL (4 ounces), not 12 mL (2 1/2 teaspoons). The doctor had told the parents to give the child the whole bottle, so the child received 120 mL of medicine (10 times more than prescribed). Like the other child, he stopped breathing. Both children died before reaching the hospital. Without emergency training and equipment, the parents were unable to save their children.

If your child needs a sedative before a procedure, tell your doctor that you will fill the prescription and bring it to the hospital or office so a medically trained person can give it. This also helps make sure the medicine is given right before the test or procedure, even if there are delays.

Created on March 1, 2005

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