Most small children who are poisoned by an adult’s prescription medication do not get it from a secured cabinet but rather from a purse, countertop, sofa cushion, floor or other easy-to-see place in the house.
The medications that are dangerous enough to send a child to the emergency room usually belong to a mother or grandparent according to a report released by the non-profit group Safe Kids Worldwide, based in Washington D.C.
Kids "are getting medications from Mom's purse and Grandma's pillbox," says Rennie Ferguson, a researcher for Safe Kids.
Ferguson examined 2,315 emergency department records on children 4 years old and under that were compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2011.
67,000 children visited emergency departments in 2011 after accidental exposure to one or more medications.
The report notes that such cases have grown by 30% in the last decade amid a growing number of prescription and non-prescription medicines in the home. While ER cases dropped slightly between 2010-2011, the difference was not statistcally significant.
Where are children finding unsecured medicines? When examining the cases, the researchers noted that when a source was recorded:
- 27% came from the floor or had been otherwise misplaced.
- 20% came from a purse, bag or wallet.
- 20% had been left out on counters, dressers, tables or nightstands.
- 15% came from a pillbox or bag of pills.
- 6% came from a cabinet or drawer.
- 12% came from other places.
The medications belonged to adults in 86% of cases, the report adds. Moms (31%) and grandparents (38%) were the most common sources.
Because small children tend to put anything and everything in their mouths, an accidental poisoning can happen quickly while someone is distracted or out of the room.
The new data suggests that small children infrequently get into medications that are properly stored.
Many times people think they will forget to take their meds if they do not see them. If you have small children in the house, or ones that visit, store the medicines in a secure cabinet and set your watch or cell phone alarm to remind you to take them.
Make sure you do not leave medicines in a coat pocket or purse where children can find them. Also, you should speak up and ask that medications be stored away when your children visit the homes of grandparents, other relatives or friends. If you feel awkward in bringing up the subject, you can always mention that your child is at a very curious stage where they get into everything. It’s absolutely true – small children are curious about everything and they seldom understand which things are dangerous and which ones are not. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
If you think a child has taken a medication that is not meant for them, the best thing to do is to call the National Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222. The line is open 24 hours a day.
If your child is exhibiting acute signs of being poisoned call 911 first.
Symptoms of poisoning may include:
- Stop breathing
- Change in cognitive abilities
- Stomach pain
Check to see if you can find any loose pills or bottles around the child so you can determine what he or she has taken.
Prescribed medications can be necessary and effective for a host of illnesses or conditions. Many households have at least one prescription medicine in the home at all times. But there are many things parents and other caregivers can do to minimize risks, says Kate Carr, Safe Kids president and CEO. The first is to store medications out of sight and out of reach — "up and away" in the catchphrase of an ongoing medication safety campaign led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up and away, easy to remember - easy to do.