Children shouldn't take cough or cold medicines that contain opioids in case the drugs become "a factor in problematic substance use later in life," according to health officials. 

Health Canada issued the recommendation Monday after conducting a safety review of cough and cold products containing codeine, hydrocodone and normethadone.

The agency's conclusion was that all of the products should be avoided by people under the age of 18 "as a precautionary measure."

"Health Canada's safety review found that there is limited evidence to support the effectiveness of these products in children and adolescents," officials said in a news release. "(The review) did find that the early use of opioids may be a factor in problematic substance use later in life."

There was no strong evidence linking the products to opioid use disorders among children, however.

Officials have approved codeine, hydrocodone and normethadone to treat cough symptoms in Canada, provided the patient has a prescription. Low doses of codeine can be used to fight coughs and colds even without a prescription.

Dr. Michael Rieder of the Canadian Pediatric Society's drug safety committee said he welcomes Health Canada's new recommendations.

"I think it is a prudent action," he told

“Opiates are potent drugs, any use should be guided by evidence. It is something we need to discuss more broadly.”

Health Canada has also launched a review of non-prescription codeine products for children and youth, and asked manufacturers of prescription opioid products to submit risk management plans.

The agency urged parents to always read medication labels, as well as any safety information provided by their pharmacist or doctor.

Rather than using opioid products to treat their child’s cough or cold symptoms, parents should ask a doctor for alternatives, Health Canada added.

The use of opioid-containing cough and cold products by children is already on the decline in Canada, currently representing just four per cent of the total prescriptions dispensed across the country. 

With files from's Cillian O'Brien