WA researchers have developed a chocolate-flavoured painkiller making it easier for children to swallow bitter-tasting medication before surgery.
Researchers from Perth Children’s Hospital and University of WA have successfully trialled a new approach to the problem of convincing reluctant young patients to swallow medication by masking the horrible taste with the sweet taste of chocolate.
The team conducted a clinical trial with 141 children over a 28-month period to assess the taste, tolerability and absorption rates of the chocolate-tasting, chewable tramadol — opioid pain medication prescribed to treat post-operative pain in youth.
Lead researchers PCH paediatric anaesthetist and UWA paediatric anaesthesia chairwoman Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg and UWA professor of pharmaceutics Lee Yong Lim, are bathing in sweet success after the trial proved bitter drugs could taste palatable.
Professor Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg said anaesthetists regularly encountered challenges due to children’s reluctance or refusal to swallow bitter-tasting medications.
“Some medications can taste horrible which can prove challenging for many children to swallow, particularly for anxious children and those in pain after surgery,” she said.
Participants and their families demonstrated positive preferences for the new chewable tablet.
Jemma Neal is the mother of a chronically ill child and said anything to alleviate stress in children having to undergo multiple surgeries made a huge difference.
“Each procedure becomes more traumatic; tramadol tastes horrible and advances such as this can have a massive positive impact,” she said.
“I definitely see the value and importance of this and other ideas the team is investigating, in alleviating the anxiety of surgery.”
The tablet used in the trial was adjusted for children of different sizes and ages, which was significant given there’s no licensed paediatric tramadol formulation currently available in Australia, researchers said.
Professor Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg hoped the pill could be given to adults who also have difficulties with swallowing traditional tablets.
“The trial showed our medication could be easily chewed so it could potentially benefit cancer patients and older people who may struggle to swallow,” she said.
“We’ve got the data, we know it is safe and we know it works in helping to address some of the barriers we face with young patients who refuse to take medication so we hope we can make this formulation more widely available.”