Up, Up and Away

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently posted a press release regarding the quite horrifying number of young children who are each year treated in the nation’s emergency departments for unintentional medication overdoses.  In plainer terms, that’s little kids who – without close supervision –  find and eat or drink adult prescription drugs.  Then they get sick, sometimes really, really sick.  Something like one of every 150 two-year-olds is rushed to a hospital after snacking on pills or potions left on counters, or on night stands,  or near bathroom sinks or similarly handy spots.

Considering that some 133  million Americans (that’s 45 percent of the population) are being treated for at least one chronic disease, and that some 65 percent of us take one or more prescription medications daily, it’s probably amazing that this doesn’t happen more often than it does.

We won’t even begin to talk about the number of young teens and adults who misappropriate prescription medications for non-medical uses.  We’re just thinking about the safety of very young, naturally curious, trusting children.  In recent years, according to the CDC’s Medication Safety Program director, Dr. Dan Budnitz, the number of accidental overdoses in little ones has increased by 20 percent.  It was already bad, and it’s apparently getting worse.

There are some really simple steps to follow to protect children from accidental overdoses and poisoning.  And this is not just good advice for those of us with little ones at home.  Remember,  friends and families with young children visit those of us whose own children are grown.  Those of us with young children spend time at gran’s house, or with uncles and aunties and other older relatives and friends who are very likely to have their drug supplies close by, in easy-to-open containers.  People get to talking and enjoying each other’s company and, oops!  Little Sally’s found the heart meds and downed the lot before we even realized she’d wandered off!  Seriously – these stories are told every day in emergency departments by very responsible, loving but now totally distraught parents.

What to do?  Here are some ways to protect children:

  • Put vitamins and medicines away each and every time you use them.  Do not leave medicines or supplements out near a sick child’s bedside or on the kitchen counter or in your room.  This is the case even if you have to administer the medicine again in a few hours.
  • Find a storage place children – smart, fearless, inquisitive children – cannot reach.  Use a spot too high for a child to see or reach.  Any medicine or vitamin can cause serious harm if taken the wrong way.  This is true of over-the-counter remedies, supplements and drugs as well.
  • Listen for the click.  Make absolutely certain that the safety cap is locked.  If the container has one of those locking caps that turns, be sure to twist it until that click is heard.  
  • Teach children about medicine safety.  Of course you know not to ever, ever tell a child that medicine is candy or a treat in order to induce them to take it, even if that child really does not want to take his or her medicine. And keep in mind that children, when at play, imitate grown up behavior.  Taking pills is quite reasonably understood as part of that behavior.  So once again, keep medicine up and away when not actually being administered. 
  • Tell any guests about medicine safety.  Be sure house guests and visitors keep their purses, totes, bags or coats that have medicines in them up and away and out of sight when they visit. And keep track of children when visiting family, friends and neighbors. Ask if any medications might be within reach and move them before the worst happens. 
  • Be prepared in case of an emergency.  Program the Poison Control number in home and cell phones: 1 800 222 1222.


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