Health & Science

What parents need to know about the child pain medication shortage

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In recent months, parents in search of medications like children’s Motrin and Tylenol have been finding empty shelves in pharmacies, grocery stores, and convenience stores across the country. Hospitals have increasingly been having trouble sourcing these medicines as well. 

This national shortage of child pain medicine is, in part, due to the “tripledemic” of contagious respiratory illnesses which are currently circulating around the country and infecting record numbers of children. Tylenol and Motrin are both over-the-counter medications that are commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fevers, common symptoms of many of the illnesses that are currently spreading around the country. 

At the end of 2022, nationwide pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens reported that their pharmacies were limiting the purchases of Tylenol and Motrin due to increased demand and product shortages. Lawmakers are currently seeking answers about the shortage from Johnson & Johnson—the main producer of these medications.

What do parents need to know?

If you’re looking for children’s Tylenol or Motrin for your own family, there are a few tips and warnings from pediatricians that parents should be aware of—

  • Never give adult Tylenol or Motrin to children under 12;
  • Do not substitute with aspirin;
  • Not all fevers need to be treated with medicine. For milder symptoms, dress your child in breathable, loose clothing and keep them well hydrated;
  • Look for the generic versions of these medications (acetaminophen instead of Tylenol or ibuprofen instead of Motrin);
  • Call smaller convenience stores and local pharmacies to see if they have a supply;
  • Ask friends and neighbors if they have any to spare;
  • Look in local parenting groups or “buy nothing” groups on social media. Only accept medications from strangers in unopened packaging or individual blister packs with the manufacturer’s label.

Johnson & Johnson reassured the public that supplies of children’s Motrin and Tylenol should start to catch back up to demand as the current wave of contagious illnesses begins to subside. Flu season typically peaks between December and April, but early data is showing the peak of the so-called “tripledemic” of COVID-19, RSV, and flu may already be past us. As these illnesses decline, supplies of child pain medication should begin to reappear on shelves. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.