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Between the Lines of the Voluntary Ban on Cold Meds for Kids

tylenol_cold_severe_congestion.jpgLet's examine some of the positioning going on around the FDA's joint announcement with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association that drugstore cold and cough meds should not be given to kids. First, I was struck by GlaxoSmithKline's press release yesterday: "FDA hearing on kids' cold medicines spells greater confusion for parents."

Er, does it? I thought it was pretty clear: the medicines should not be given to children younger than 4 years old.

The beauty of the GSK statement -- or the cynicism, depending on your point of view -- lies in the headline. I can see why GSK thinks parents may be confused, but that isn't really the issue here. Overall, the headline comes across -- unintentionally? -- as a way for GSK to pour doubt on the wisdom of the FDA's act. After all, GSK makes Beechams, Coldrex and Contac -- all meds that will be negatively affected (even if only marginally) by the voluntary ban.

Second, GSK uses its press release not so much to inform parents about what the FDA and CHPA are doing, but to sell Breathe Right strips -- also made by GSK! -- which aren't affected by the announcement. What's impressive here is that GSK's opportunism is working on more than one level. You have to hand it to them: Some quickâ€"thinking and deeply devious people work at GSK. These are the guys whose inventiveness will pull us out of this recession (even if we have to take a shower afterwards). Buy the stock while it's cheap!

Now let's turn to what isn't in the announcement: Notorious cold medicines and recreational hallucinogens Coricidin and Robitussin. The CHPA actually supports a ban on selling Coricidin to anyone under 18, because these drugs are abused by idiotic teenagers who take them at overdose levels in order to get high. That's a step in the right direction, unless any of those teens have siblings older than 18. Which they do, duh.

Obviously the two issues are separate -- 4-year-olds aren't abusing meds. But they are linked by the implicit admission that these meds are more powerful than companies have previously been willing to publicize, especially in kids.

There's an easy solution to the Robo-Tripping problem: Change the law so that often-abused meds live behind the checkout counter, the way pseudoephedrine is now (due to the fact that it's an ingredient in crystal meth).

Interestingly, the drug companies aren't quite pressing for that.

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