Kids Have More Accidental Drug Poisonings

This is a frightening new statistic:  Between 2001 and 2008, the number of accidental drug poisonings surged 22 percent among children ages 5 and younger.

According to research published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers gathered data on more than half a million cases reported to the poison control center. In 95 percent of cases, the poisoning occurred because the child ingested the drug (as opposed to a dosage or other error by a parent or pharmacist). And prescription drugs accounted for more than half–55 percent–of the drug-poisoning visits to the emergency room…but they accounted for nearly three quarters of serious injuries. In fact, 43 percent of the children admitted to the hospital after accidentally ingesting a prescription drug ended up in intensive care.

An article in The New York Times reports that this increase in poisonings occurred despite childproof safety caps and warnings on labels. The increase seems to track with the large number of prescription drugs in the home. The biggest culprits: Narcotic pain relievers, such as oxycodone or Vicodin; muscle relaxers; and prescription heart drugs.

“It is also possible that some types of medications previously less available in the environment of young children have become more available,” the authors wrote. “As obesity and the metabolic syndrome have increased in prevalence and affected younger adults, more homes of small children may have antihypertensive and antidiabetic medicines prescribed for parents or siblings.”

Plus, parents may be less vigilant about locking drugs away in child-proof cabinets. According to the article in The New York Times:

“All medication users find it inconvenient to store medication in locked cabinets, particularly medications that are used once or several times daily,” the authors wrote. “They may not understand the life-threatening impact of some medications in just one dose, discount the potential toxicity of O.T.C. [over-the-counter] medications, or underestimate the likelihood that it will happen in their home with their children.”

Someday, maybe there will be better packaging that is not only difficult to open, but which prevents over-dosing. For example, liquid medication bottles can be designed to restrict flow, and pill bottles can be made to dispense only one tablet at a time.


Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center offers the following tips which should be followed daily to prevent poisoning:

  • All medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, should have child-proof caps and be kept out of reach of children. If possible, put a lock or safety latch on your medicine cabinet.
  • Prescription medications aren’t the only thing in your bathroom that can be harmful to your children. Hair and skin products can also be dangerous if swallowed or inhaled. Keep them out of small children’s reach.
  • The medicine cabinet isn’t the only place children find drugs. Many kids get them from their mother’s purses. If you carry medications in your purse, make sure they have child-resistant closures.
  • Never transfer prescription medications to other containers. You may forget what they are and the prescribed dosage. Keep all prescription medicines in original containers.
  • Does your desk at home have glue, correction fluid or rubber cement in it? These could be harmful if swallowed. If you have small children, keep office products in locked storage.
  • Not all poisons come in bottles. Plants can be poisonous too. Keep house plants out of small children’s reach.
  • When making your home safe from accidental poisonings, don’t forget your garage. Keep automobile products, paints and paint solvents, and pesticides under lock and key and away from children.
  • You say you don’t have children? Do grandchildren or other kids sometimes come to visit your house? What about pets? Poison-proofing can save lives, even if you don’t have small children.

Poison-Proof Your Home

  • Begin before your baby starts to crawl; get down on a child’s level and crawl around your house, making sure all hazards are removed
  • There is no such thing as a child-proof container; safety containers are only child-resistant, making them somewhat difficult to open but not impossible
  • Store all potential poisons out of the reach and sight of children; keep products like insecticides, drain cleaners and medicines in a locked cabinet
  • Children can open drawers as easily as cupboards; remove cosmetics, medication and other such items from bedside tables and low drawers
  • Never let children be the first to open arriving mail or shopping containers
  • Never leave purses that contain medicines and other potentially dangerous items unattended
  • Never store food and household cleaning products together
  • Never transfer products like kerosene, gasoline or household cleaning agents to another container, such as a soft drink bottle, cup or bowl that would attract a child or pet
  • When discarding household products, rinse out the container and dispose of it in a covered trash can
  • Always store medicines in their original containers, and discard medicines that are no longer used; rinse out empty containers

Poison-Proof Yourself

  • Make sure you set a good example and establish good habits in the home and on the job.
  • Never tell children medicine tastes like candy or that it is candy.
  • Never take medicine when children are present. Children are imitators.
  • Don’t leave a child and a poison alone even “for a second”.
  • Don’t take medicine in the dark or without reading the label.
  • Don’t leave purses unattended or available to curious children
  • Don’t mix household cleaning solutions, such as bleach and ammonia.
  • Give medicine only to the person for whom it has been prescribed.
  • Follow directions carefully when handling chemicals.
  • Always be sure a teenage baby sitter has an adult to contact for help when parents are not available.
  • Share this poison information with older siblings, baby sitters and relatives. Everyone has a part in preventing childhood poisonings.

To read the full article in The New York Times, click here:  More Accidental Drug Poisonings of Children

To read the article in The Journal of Pediatrics, click here:  The Growing Impact of Pediatric Pharmaceutical Poisoning

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