Article at a Glance

  • Each day 165 children go to the ER to be treated for accidental medication drug poisoning.
  • Overdoses could be easily prevented by being more careful with how we store and administer medication.
  • Make sure to keep medications out of sight and out of reach of children.

Although the child poisoning death rate in the U.S. has decreased significantly over the past several decades, a growing percentage of these deaths are being caused by medications. Since the 1970s the percentage has jumped from 34 percent to 64 percent.

Medications like prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, vitamins, and herbs are now the leading cause of child poisoning deaths. In the U.S. 165 children under the age of 14 go to the ER every day to be treated for medication drug poisoning—every year 56 children of these children die. In fact, more children are seen in emergency rooms for accidental medication overdoses than for motor vehicle occupant injuries.

The tragic part is that medication overdoses can be so easily prevented by being more careful with how we store and administer medication.

Safe Storage
About 95 percent of medication overdose cases in the emergency room are from children taking medication while they are unsupervised. Medications often look and sometimes taste like candy, making them very tempting to curious children.

In addition, 20 percent of poisonings involve a grandparent’s medication. If you are visiting grandma and grandpa or if they live with you, you will also want to be careful how they store their medications.

Some Tips:

  • Keep all medications, including vitamins and herbs, locked up and out of sight.
  • Don’t keep medications in your purse, briefcase, pocket, or car where children can easily get to them.
  • Never leave medications out between doses. Store them safely away after each use.
  • Always buy medications in child-resistant packages. Make sure they are tightly closed after each use.
  • When people are visiting your home, remind them to keep medications up and out of reach.
  • Instead of leaving your medication out on the counter as a reminder to take it, use notes, calendar reminders on your cell phone, or a medicine log.

Safe Dosing
When you are worried about a sick child, busy with everybody’s schedules, or trying to coordinate medication dosages with multiple caregivers, it can be easy to make a mistake or lose track. But when dealing with medications, making even a small mistake can have some very serious consequences. Here are some tips on how to make sure your child is getting the right dose.

Some Tips:

  • Read the label each and every time you administer a medication. This way you can be sure you have the right medication, haven’t forgotten the dose, or that the medication hasn’t changed dosages.
  • If the medication does not have any dosage information, call your doctor and tell them the exact product you are using.
  • Read medication labels and make sure you are not giving your child multiple medications with the same active ingredient. For example, acetaminophen is found in more than 100 different products and combination products. If you give your child some Tylenol to lower a fever and then later some cold medication, there is a strong chance you could be administering a double dose of acetaminophen.
  • To avoid confusion, keep all medications in their original packaging.
  • If you don’t know what a medication is, don’t use it.
  • Always use the dosing device that comes with the medication. Kitchen utensils like teaspoons and tablespoons are not precise enough for medication.
  • If your child gets sicker, don’t be tempted to increase the dose.
  • Do not give adult medication to children.
  • Track when you gave the last dose and make sure you wait enough time between doses.
  • If switching between multiple caregivers, it might be tempting to just ask your child when the last dose was administered, but you should never rely on your child’s memory when administrating medications. Instead use medication logs that give clear instructions on what medications should be given, how much, and when.
  • Whenever possible, try to make just one person responsible for administering medicine.
  • Have the Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) programmed into your home phone and cell phone. But call 911 immediately if your child is unconscious, not breathing, or experiencing a seizure.

Safe Habits
Another way to protect your children is by being aware of the messages we send them. If we treat medication like something that is safe and appropriate for them to handle, they are more likely to get into it.

Some Tips:

  • When trying to convince children to take medicine, don’t tell them that it is candy or that it tastes like candy. Make sure they understand the distinction between candy and medicine.
  • Do not let children see you or others taking medication or vitamins—they may be tempted to mimic the behavior.
  • Do not have your children help you dispense medications. For example, don’t ask them to fetch medication from your purse or allow them to administer it themselves.

Safe Disposal
Keeping a lot of old medications in the house has a number of risks:

  • Old and unused medications are more likely to get misplaced and found by a child.
  • Having a lot of medications around in the medicine cabinet increases the odds that you could accidentally grab the wrong one or an outdated medication.
  • Prescription drug abuse is on the rise. Having fewer medications in your house will remove any temptations for your teen or others.

Be sure to dispose of any medications appropriately. Different drugs require different methods of disposal. Some drugs can be harmful to the environment or to people if they get into the water supply. If there are no disposal instructions on the label, you can ask your pharmacist.

The easiest way to dispose of medications, particularly those that can’t be thrown away, is by finding a local drug take back program in your area.

If there is no take back program in your area and it is safe to dispose of the medication in the trash, you should first:

  • Make sure there is no identifying information on the container, including your own personal information or information about the medication.
  • Put the medication in another container with an undesirable substance like kitty litter, coffee grounds, or sawdust. If the medication is a solid pill or liquid capsule, first dissolve it in water. This will make it look less attractive to children, pets, or anybody else intentionally digging through your garbage.
  • The container or bag you use should be sealable so that the medication does not leak out.
  • Don’t ever give old medications to friends or family. A drug that is safe for you might be dangerous for somebody else.
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Medications are the Leading Cause of Accidental Child Poisoning Deaths

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