The FDA is adding the following new restrictions to the warning labels of codeine and tramadol (an opiod pain medication sold under the brandname of Ultram):
- Codeine is contraindicated to treat pain or cough, and tramadol is contraindicated for treating pain in children under 12.
- Tramadol is contraindicated for treating pain after surgery to remove tonsils and/or adenoids for children under 18. Use of codeine for this purpose was placed under the same restriction in 2013.
- Codeine and tramadol are not recommended for use in adolescents ages 12-18 who are obese or have conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea or severe lung disease.
- Mothers should not breastfeed when taking codeine or tramadol.
The FDA gave its recommendation on 4/20/17. The following is taken from an FDA communication found at https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm549679.htm :
Codeine and tramadol are a type of narcotic medicine called an opioid. Codeine is used to treat mild to moderate pain and also to reduce coughing. It is usually combined with other medicines, such as acetaminophen, in prescription pain medicines. It is frequently combined with other drugs in prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines. Tramadol is a prescription medicine approved only for use in adults to treat moderate to moderately severe pain. However, data show it is being used in children and adolescents despite the fact that it is not approved for use in these patients.
In early 2013, FDA added a Boxed Warning to the codeine drug label cautioning against prescribing codeine to children of any age to treat pain after surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids. We also issued Drug Safety Communications in July 2015 and September 2015 warning about the risk of serious breathing problems in some children who metabolized codeine and tramadol much faster to their active form than usual (called ultra-rapid metabolism), causing potentially dangerously high levels in their bodies too quickly. At that time, we said we would continue to evaluate this safety issue. As part of that safety review, the codeine-related safety issues were discussed at an FDA Advisory Committee meeting in December 2015.
Our review of several decades of adverse event reports submitted to FDA* from January 1969 to May 2015 identified 64 cases of serious breathing problems, including 24 deaths, with codeine-containing medicines in children younger than 18 years. This includes only reports submitted to FDA, so there may be additional cases about which we are unaware. We also identified nine cases of serious breathing problems, including three deaths, with the use of tramadol in children younger than 18 years from January 1969 to March 2016 (see Data Summary). The majority of serious side effects with both codeine and tramadol occurred in children younger than 12 years, and some cases occurred after a single dose of the medicine.
In our review of the medical literature1-19 for data regarding codeine use during breastfeeding, we found numerous cases of excess sleepiness and serious breathing problems in breastfed infants, including one death. A review of the available medical literature4,5,23,24 for data regarding tramadol use during breastfeeding did not reveal any cases of adverse events. However, tramadol and its active form are also present in breast milk, and tramadol has the same risks associated with ultra-rapid metabolism as codeine.