A Wake-Up Call for Parents: Beware of Melatonin Gummies

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a concerning trend emerged in pediatric emergency rooms across the United States. Doctors began noticing a surprising increase in cases involving children overdosing on melatonin. A collaborative study revealed a whopping 530% increase in annual calls to poison control for pediatric melatonin overdoses from 2012 to 2021. In 2020, poison control received more calls about pediatric melatonin overdoses than any other substance. Meanwhile, the overdose numbers for other substances plummeted during the same time period with Tylenol overdoses down 53 percent; opioids, down 54 percent; and many cough and cold medications, down 72 percent. While, in most cases, the ill effects seemed mild—manifesting as drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting—there were some serious repercussions. In a cross-sectional study of pediatric melatonin ingestions reported to U.S. poison control centers in the CDC’s June 2022 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR), there were 287 children admitted to ICUs for ingestions; five required ventilators; and two died. This data poses a serious question: what sets melatonin apart from other substances and why does it seem to be so much more dangerous to children now?

The prevalence of melatonin gummies for kids was identified as a major contributing factors to this concerning trend. Researchers and health care providers tend to attribute the surge in part to both the uptick in sleep troubles children experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the supplement often coming in a gummy form that’s easily mistaken for candy. Furthermore, a recent research study confirms that the labels on melatonin gummies cannot always be
trusted. A JAMA study from April 2023 that analyzed 25 brands of gummies found significant variation in contents across products, and major discrepancies between the amount of active ingredient listed on the label and that contained in the gummy.

One gummy product tested contained no detectable melatonin but rather 31.3 mg of CBD! The quantity of melatonin in the other gummies ranged from 74% to 347% of the labeled quantity. Eighty-eight percent of the products were inaccurately labeled, and only 12% of the products contained a quantity of melatonin that fell within 10% of the amount on the label. Among those products that listed CBD on the label, the actual amount ranged from 104% to 118% of the declared amount. A study of Canadian melatonin products yielded similar results. Across 16 brands, the melatonin dose ranged from 17% to 478% of that listed on the label.

Parental Awareness and Education

As melatonin gummies continue to gain popularity, parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in mitigating the risks associated with its use. It is crucial to educate parents about the potential dangers of leaving melatonin gummies within easy reach of children. Many parents perceive melatonin as akin to a vitamin and may leave it on a nightstand, unaware of its potential harm. Dr. Karima Lelak, an emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, emphasizes the importance of viewing melatonin as a medication that should be securely stored in the medicine cabinet.

Educating Healthcare Professionals

Pharmacists, as trusted healthcare professionals, have a crucial role in disseminating information about the safe use of melatonin in children. They should actively engage with parents and caregivers, providing guidance on proper dosage, potential risks, and the importance of storing melatonin securely. With their expertise, pharmacists can contribute to a broader understanding of melatonin’s risks and benefits, helping parents make informed decisions about their children’s sleep aid choices.

Finding Alternatives to Melatonin Gummies

The surge in pediatric melatonin overdoses is a sobering reminder of the hidden dangers posed by melatonin gummies, which are particularly attractive to children given that they look and taste like candy. Parents and caregivers must exercise caution, store melatonin gummies securely, and educate themselves on the potential risks. Parents should also consider safer and more childproof methods of melatonin consumption such as oral sprays, which are virtually impossible for small children to administer and do not run the risk of being confused with candy. As the popularity of melatonin continues to rise, regulatory measures, consumer awareness, and the active involvement of healthcare professionals are crucial to ensure the safety of our children’s health and well-being. By working together, we can navigate the complexities of the supplement market and protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

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