European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

, Volume 72, Issue 1, pp 117–123 | Cite as

Off-label and unlicensed drug treatments in Neonatal Intensive Care Units: an Italian multicentre study

Pharmacoepidemiology and Prescription



The use of medicines among newborns admitted to intensive care units is characterized by a high prevalence of off-label/unlicensed use and a wide variability in the absence of international guidelines. A prospective cross-sectional study was organized with the aim to analyse drug prescriptions among all 107 Italian level III neonatal intensive care units.


An online questionnaire was used to collect detailed information for each newborn, and a classification was made about the license status of all prescriptions. In addition, prescriptions were analysed taking into account a practical guide prepared by the Italian Society of Neonatology (ISN).


The 1-day survey (May–July 2014) regarded 220 newborn infants admitted to 36/107 Italian neonatal intensive care units: 191 prematures and 29 born at term. In total, 720 prescriptions (corresponding to 79 different drugs) were analysed: 191 (26.5 %) followed the terms of the product license, 529 (73.5 %) were off-label or unlicensed: 193/220 newborns (87.7 %) received at least one off-label/unlicensed prescription. Antiinfectives were the most common medicine used, followed by respiratory drugs and antianaemics; in an off-label manner, the most common was cardiovascular and central nervous system (CNS) drugs, gastrointestinals and antiinfectives. The most common categories of off-label use were age (34.4 %) and dosing frequency (20.6 %). Compared to ISN practical guide, prescriptions adhered more frequently to indications (100 % for ampicillin/sulbactam, >80 % for ampicillin, fluconazole, fentanyl, ranitidine and vancomicin).


Our results confirm the high prevalence of off-label/unlicensed drug use in the neonatal population and underline a better adherence to indications based on clinical practice, suggesting the need to update information contained in the data sheets of medicines.


Newborn Medicines Off-label use Variability 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Diagnostics & Public Health-Section of PharmacologyUniversity of Verona, Policlinico G.B. RossiVeronaItaly
  2. 2.Fatebenefratelli-ricercaRomeItaly

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