Infants and young children are being given powerful heart drugs designed for adults - and they're often given the wrong dose, or sometimes even given the wrong drug.
The children are usually given the drugs to treat a congenital heart problem - a condition that affects around four out of every 1,000 newborns - but doctors often get the dose wrong in relation to the baby's weight.
The problem has been highlighted in a review of 821 medication errors reported to a national database. As the reporting system is entirely voluntary, it's difficult to calculate the extent of the errors, but it certainly seems to be common.
Most of the drugs are being prescribed 'off label', which means they are given to a group of people or for a purpose not intended, or tested for, by the manufacturer. As heart drugs aren't manufactured specifically for pediatric use, the doctor has to calculate the correct dose according to weight, and also the drug that is most appropriate, and the least dangerous to a newborn.
(Source: Pediatrics, 2009; 124: 324-32).