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FDA Warns of Codeine Risk for Some Nursing Mothers
Date:8/18/2007

Some women metabolize the drug quickly, raising chance of morphine overdose for baby

FRIDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Nursing mothers who use medicines containing codeine and metabolize the drug quickly may be putting their baby at risk of a morphine overdose, U.S. health officials said Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's warning was prompted by a report of the death of a 13-day-old breast-fed infant who died from morphine overdose. In that case, researchers found abnormally high morphine levels in the milk of the mother, who had been taking codeine to treat pain from an episiotomy. A genetic test found that the mother was an "ultra-rapid metabolizer" of codeine.

"Infants of nursing mothers who are taking codeine can have an increased risk of morphine overdose if the mother is an ultra-rapid metabolizer of codeine," Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA's Office of New Drugs at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said during a teleconference.

These women are genetically predisposed to metabolize codeine more rapidly and completely than other people, Kweder said. The pain-relieving effect of codeine occurs as some of it is metabolized into morphine, she explained.

Codeine is found in prescription and non-prescription medicines and used to relieve pain or treat cough. "Its use to manage pain after delivery is very common," Kweder said.

Ultra-rapid metabolizers of codeine are likely to have higher levels of morphine in their blood after taking usual doses of the drug, Kweder said. "Nursing mothers who are ultra-rapid metabolizers may also have higher morphine levels in their breast milk," she said. "These higher levels of morphine can affect the baby and lead to very severe, even life-threatening side effects in nursing babies."

Kweder advised doctors who prescribe codeine to nursing mothers to prescribe the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time.
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