Use of Unlicensed and Off-Label Drugs in Hospitalized Children
M. Lifshitz, V. Gavrilov, R. Gorodischer
Toxicology Unit, Pediatrics Dept. A, Soroka Medical Center, and Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba
Many drugs used in children are based on pharmacological data obtained in adults. Therefore, many drugs are either unlicensed for use in children or are prescribed outside the terms of the product license (off-label). This pilot study assessed use of unlicensed or off-label drugs in hospitalized children.
Drug orders of patients admitted to a general pediatric ward were reviewed retrospectively in a random sample. Assessment was based on the data of the Physicians' Desk Reference and the Israel Drug Compendium. 80 different drugs and 278 drug orders were written for 92 patients (0.5 months - 11 years old, mean 26.9 months) in 97 admissions. Of these 52.9% were either off-label or unlicensed. Patients received 1 or more unlicensed or off-label drugs in 64.9% of admissions. They were more often off-label than unlicensed. The main reasons for use of off-label drugs were unusual doses and inappropriate age. The main reason for unlicensed drugs was modification of a particular formulation of a licensed drug.
This pilot study indicates that use of drugs in an off-label or unlicensed manner in children is probably quite frequent in Israel. Our data emphasize the need for licensing a large number of drugs for use in children, based on the same scientific principles as in adults. Further collaborative studies in different pediatric centers in Israel, involving different types of pediatric settings (ambulatory and in-hospital), is required to evaluate comprehensively the magnitude of this preliminary finding.