New survey of public attitudes on cold and cough medications for children

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A new survey from NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health examines the public’s views of over-the-counter children’s cold and cough medications in the wake of recent concerns raised by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel, the media and the pharmaceutical industry regarding their safety and effectiveness.  The poll, Children’s OTC Cold Medicines: The Public, and Parents, Weigh In, was conducted after an FDA advisory panel recommended that children under the age of six not be given these medicines.  NPR will report findings from the poll in its coverage of the controversy over using cold and cough medicines for young children on its morning newsmagazine program Morning Edition and online.
Reflecting the lack of formal consensus on the issue among government and outside experts, the survey finds that many parents are uncertain about whether to use the medicines for their young children in the future and are talking about the issue with other parents, pediatricians and pharmacists.  One third (34 percent) of parents with pre-elementary school aged children report that they have at least temporarily stopped using these medications since the concerns surfaced.  Going forward, among parents with children ages 2 to under 6, 15 percent say they plan to stop using the medications, while 30 percent say they will continue to use them.  Another 28 percent say they have not yet decided what to do, while others either have never used such drugs or were unaware of the recent safety concerns.
When it comes to making decisions about the safety and effectiveness of children’s over-the-counter drugs more generally, pediatricians are the most trusted source for parents with children under age 6, with 71 percent saying they trust them “a lot” to provide accurate information.  Pharmacists are the next most-trusted, with half of these parents saying they have confidence in them. In comparison, only 29 percent of these parents report having a lot of trust in the FDA.
Other issues addressed in the poll include the reasons why parents report using over-the-counter cold and cough medicines for their kids; parents’ views about the effectiveness of these drugs; whether pharmaceutical companies have implemented adequate testing procedures for these medications; and how opinions about drug safety have changed over the past several years. A nationally representative sample of 1,522 adults, including an oversample of parents with young children, participated in telephone interviews from Nov. 15-25, 2007. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample, and plus or minus 5 percentage points for parents with young children.
This survey is part of a series of projects about health-related issues by NPR, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Representatives of the three organizations worked together to develop the survey questionnaire and to analyze the results, with NPR maintaining editorial control over its broadcasts on the surveys.