Legislator fights removing flavoring from children’s medicine

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By Emilie St. John

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD — The California Board of Pharmacy is considering a proposal that would inhibit the state’s more than 5,000 pharmacies from flavoring medication for children, a practice that has been in place for decades.

Their proposal would mandate that medicine flavoring for toddlers and children be considered a compounding process. That means that it can only be carried out by compounding pharmacies.

Proposed legislation would codify the board’s long-standing position so that by law, pharmacies in California would not be subjected to arduous compounding regulations which includes flavoring kid’s medicines.

Inglewood Assemblywoman Tina McKinnor has authored legislation, Assembly Bill 782, alongside Assembly members Jacqui Irwin and Tom Lackey, which addresses compounding regulations that allows dispensing medicine, which includes splitting, crushing or adding a flavoring agent to enhance palatability.

According to KidsData.org as of 2021 there were six million children under the age of 11 who reside in California which could be impacted should the flavoring be removed.

“As a mother of two sons, I know firsthand how difficult it was at times for my children to take the medicine they needed to get and stay healthy,” McKinnor said when reached for comment. “Making it easier for children to take their prescription medicine through my AB 782 will improve health outcomes for children in my community and across California. I’m no Mary Poppins, but her song rings true: a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down.”

AB 782 is in response to a law previously passed which addressed drug compounding by pharmacies.

In 2019, the state passed a law that required California pharmacists to prepare drugs in a way that met the rules outlined by the United States Pharmacopeia that sets standards for how drugs are prepared. This includes drug compounding, where pharmacists combine, mix or alter ingredients to meet the needs of individual patients.

At the time, Assemblywoman Irwin, a Democrat from Thousand Oaks and author of the law, said the goal was to ensure that Californians received drugs that met national health and safety standards, citing a 2012 multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis that killed 64 people due to the unsafe compounding of a steroid. The board approached her office, seeking to establish minimum standards for drug compounding and identifying U.S. Pharmacopeia as the baseline for compliance.

Irwin has now joined forces with McKinnor to codify that drug compounding does not include the addition of flavoring to enhance palatability.

“I want the board and key legislators to find a solution that protects consumer safety, while ensuring access to flavored medicine,” said Irwin in a previous interview.

CVS is ranked the top pharmacy in the nation that dispenses medication but it is categorized as a specialty pharmacy. It is followed by Walgreens, which offers basic compounding services. Without passage of AB 782, those who get their children’s medications from CVS would be unable to do so.  

McKinnor’s bill keeps that service intact.

Data shows that California pharmacies dispense between 300,000 to 500,000 flavored medications annually, without any reported incidents that would be described as “harmful” to children.

Children are more likely to comply with taking their medicine, which leads to faster recovery times when they are sick.

Mothers from around the state are rallying behind McKinnor’s bill due to their personal struggles with getting their children to take their medicine, which is already a challenge.

They have launched a social media campaign #MomsForFlavor in support of AB 782.

“Medicine plays a vital role in keeping our children healthy and helping them recover from illness,” said Lisa, a mother of two, who runs the website Move Mama Move. “However, getting kids to take their prescribed medications can often be a challenging task, especially when the taste is unpalatable or unpleasant.” 

The California Board of Pharmacy is expected to take up the issue in the coming months.

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at emiliesaintjohn@gmail.com.

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