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Medication errors involving intravenous paracetamol in children: experience from enquiries to the National Poisons Information Service

Author/s Vincent F, Thompson J, Gray LA, Bradberry S, Sandilands E, Thanacoody RHK, Tuthill T
Year 2024
Type of publication Journal article

Introduction Children are at higher risk of medication errors due to the complexity of drug prescribing and administration in this patient group. Intravenous (IV) paracetamol overdose differs from overdose by ingestion as there is no enteral absorptive buffering. We provide the first national UK data focusing on paediatric IV paracetamol poisoning.

Methods All telephone enquiries to the National Poisons Information Service between 2008 and 2021 regarding children less than 18 years old in the UK concerning IV paracetamol overdose were extracted from the UK Poisons Information Database (UKPID). Data were analysed using descriptive statistics.

Results Enquiries were made concerning 266 children, mostly involving children under the age of 1 year (n=145; 54.5%). Acute and staggered overdoses were the most frequent types of exposure. Common error themes included 10-fold overdose in 45 cases (16.9%) and inadvertent concomitant oral and IV dosing in 64 cases (24.1%). A high proportion of cases were asymptomatic (87.1%), with many calls regarding overdoses below the treatable dose of 60 mg/kg (41.4%). Treatment with the antidote acetylcysteine was advised in 113 cases (42.5%).

Conclusions Inadvertent IV paracetamol overdose appears to occur more frequently in young children. A significant proportion were calculation errors which were often 10-fold errors. While these errors have the potential for causing serious harm, thankfully most cases were asymptomatic. Errors with IV paracetamol might be reduced by electronic prescribing support systems, better communication regarding administration and consideration of whether other routes are more appropriate.

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