Objective. To characterize risks to infants and young children from drugs and biological products that were identified in spontaneous adverse event reports submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration.
Methods. Of >500 000 MedWatch adverse event reports received by the Food and Drug Administration from November 1997 through December 2000, we identified 7111 reports about infants and children younger than age 2. The reports were analyzed for health outcome (eg, death, hospitalization, congenital anomaly), principal suspect drug, and whether the route of drug exposure was direct administration or through the mother in the perinatal period.
Results. Drug therapy was associated with an average of 243 reported deaths annually over the 38-month study period, with 100 (41%) occurring during the first month of life and 204 (84%) during the first year. In 1432 (24%) reported adverse event cases of all levels of severity, exposure to the drug was from the mother during pregnancy, delivery, or lactation. Although 1902 different drugs, biological products, and other chemicals were identified in the reports, only 17 drugs or biological products were a suspect in 54% of all serious and fatal adverse events in drugs administered directly.
Conclusion. Adverse reactions to drug therapy are a significant cause of death and injury in infants and children under 2 years of age. Drugs administered to the mother in the perinatal period constituted a major route of exposure to adverse drug advents. These results underscore the need for additional drug testing in the youngest pediatric patients and for carefully weighing the risks versus benefits of medication.