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Are Adult Drugs Safe for Children?

Many common drugs, from antibiotics to anesthetics to drugs that treat all kinds of illnesses, have been proven to work well for adults but never been tested for use in children.

Many doctors prescribe them for kids anyway in smaller doses in the hopes of providing the same good results. But a child is not just a miniature adult, and there are concerns that some drugs may affect children differently. Now there are studies underway to test the drugs in children, too.

Treating a 7-year-old's epilepsy

Seven-year-old C.J. Katz has tried a lot of different drugs to treat his epilepsy.

His mom, Cindy Katz says, "He has anywhere from two to five seizures a week sometimes two to five in one day and nothing was controlling it."

But one the drugs had unexpected side effects.

"His mood swings were on the drop of a dime he would hit he would punch and throw things,'" says Katz. "It's scary because you don't know how it's going to affect him. I mean there could be a lot of damage. On the other hand it could help a lot, but you don't know you don't know what's going to happen.

Unlike adults, children like C.J. are constantly changing from infancy through adolescence. A drug has the potential to affect the same child differently in each stage of development.

"Childhood is not a single event but rather there are phases and different aged children handle drugs differently," says Dr. Mark Schreiner, director of the Children's Clinical Research Institute. "A lot of the emphasis in pediatrics is not just proving that the therapy works but helping to find the right dose."

Clinical trials for kids

Now C.J. is taking a new anti-epilepsy drug called Keppra. But this time he's part of a study aimed at taking the guesswork out of prescribing the drug for kids. Doctors will closely monitor his reactions and carefully document the results of his treatment every step of the way.

"If we don't take those experiences and turn them into information then future patients don't benefit," says Schreiner. "They're studies that are aimed at choosing the right dose and demonstrating that the drug is safe."

For a mother already worried enough about her son's epilepsy, the knowledge that his doctors share her concern is a big comfort.

"It makes you very more secure plus I have phone numbers I can contact somebody at any time," says Katz. "It wasn't like, 'here I'll see you in a month when this bottle runs out.' They were right there at all times."

As of December of this year, the federal government is requiring all new drugs that might be used for kids to be tested in kids at the same time as adults. So parents will likely be asked more and more by doctors whether they are willing to eroll their children in these kinds of studies.

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