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Major study of opiate use in children's hospitals provides simple steps to alleviate harm
Date:10/5/2008

STANFORD, Calif. Hospitalized kids with painful ailments from broken bones to cancer are often dosed with strong, painkilling drugs known as opiates. The medications block pain, but they can have nasty side effects. Constipation, for instance, is one side effect that can cause discomfort and even extend a child's hospital stay.

"No parent wants their child in the hospital any longer than necessary," said Paul Sharek, MD, MPH, medical director for quality management and chief clinical patient safety officer at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Sharek is the primary author of a new study, detailing the first large multicenter trial in children to show a decrease in harm from pain medications. It shows how simple changes to hospital procedures can sharply reduce the harm children suffer from opiates. The study, a yearlong collaboration between 14 U.S. children's hospitals, documented a 67 percent drop in harmful events caused by the pain relievers when these procedures were implemented.

"Our collaborative aim was to decrease adverse drug event rates by 50 percent," Sharek said. "We far exceeded that, which was very exciting."

The findings will appear in the October issue of Pediatrics. The study was organized by the Child Health Corporation of America, a business alliance of 44 North American children's hospitals. Packard Children's Hospital participated in the study, and Sharek, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, led the analysis of its results.

The researchers focused on opiates pain-relieving drugs in the morphine family because they're widely used and harm young patients more often than other drugs. Forty percent of patients at children's hospitals across the U.S. receive opiates. The vast majority of harmful incidents from the drugs, such as constipation and skin itching, are relatively minor. But neither families nor doctors want such p
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Contact: Erin Digitale
digitale@stanford.edu
650-724-9175
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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