With medication poisonings on the rise in children, parents need to develop a routine for putting medicine away every time it’s used.
Thanks to years of campaigning by poison prevention experts, most parents of young children know to childproof their kitchen cabinets. But when it comes to what’s in the medicine cabinet, parents and caregivers aren’t nearly as vigilant as they should be, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Accidental overdoses in children are up by 20%, and more than 60,000 children are sent to emergency departments each year after being exposed to medicine. CDC research shows a large majority of cases are the result of medications left unsecured—stacked on countertops, tucked into purses and coat pockets, or stored bathroom cabinets.
Whether it’s a toxic dose of cough medicine or a handful of antidepressants, accidental poisonings can be prevented. Being mindful of habits is an important part of the equation, and a simple reminder may be all it takes to get parents on the right track, says Emily Skor, vice president of Communications & Alliance Development at the Consumer Healthcare Product Alliance (CHPA).
Her organization, which represents the nation’s OTC drug makers, recently partnered with the CDC’s PROTECT initiative to launch “Up and Away and Out of Sight,” an educational campaign that offers resources pharmacists can use to promote safe medication storage practices. “Parents work hard to protect their children,” said Skor. “This program reminds them to keep medicines and vitamins up and away and out of sight.”
The campaign focuses not just on prescription drugs, but OTC medicines as well—including children’s cough and cold medicines and supplements, which parents may not think of as dangerous. “Up and Away” offers a Web site and other educational materials parents can use to develop a “safe storage routine” to follow every time they open up a medicine bottle.
Safe storage tips
Pharmacists do their part to protect children from accidental medicine poisonings by sharing these 5 tips with parents:
Take a walk. Walk through the house with your child’s field of vision in mind. The best place to store medicines is a high, hidden spot, such as on top of the refrigerator, in an upper kitchen cabinet, or on the highest shelf of the linen closet. Although it’s common to store medications in the bathroom, the damp, warm conditions aren’t ideal for medicines. The storage spot should have a steady temperature and low humidity.
Don’t leave it out. Seeing prescriptions or vitamins lined up on the counter can be a useful reminder to stick to your daily regimen. But with young children in the house, it’s an accident waiting to happen. Set cell phone reminders, use a medicine log, or write notes to yourself, but don’t leave your medications out in plain view. The same goes for children’s medicines—even if your child is sick and you expect she’ll need another dose in a few hours.
Twist and click. Get into the habit of listening for the “click”—the sound a child safety cap makes when it’s locked in place. Remember that although locking caps are child-resistant, they aren’t childproof. A study conducted at the Long Island Poison Center found the locking caps no better than ordinary caps at preventing child poisonings involving a grandparent's medication.
Preach what you practice. In addition to taking steps to safeguard medicines, take time to explain to children what medicine is and why only an adult should handle it. CDC adds this warning for parents: “Never tell children medicine is candy to get them to take it, even if your child does not like to take his or her medicine.”
Share responsibility. Caring for children requires a strong support network, and medicine safety is no different. Grandparents and other guests who come to visit may not be accustomed to keeping tabs on their medications. Ask them to help you safeguard your home by stowing purses, bags, or coats that might have medicine in them out of your child’s reach.
Precautionary measures are the best way to reduce medication poisonings, but knowing how to respond to a suspected poisoning is also important. “Up and Away” urges parents to prepare by programming the poison control center number, 1-800-222-1222, into the address books of their home and cell phones. The help line connects callers to a specially trained pharmacist, nurse, or doctor who can provide guidance during a poison emergency.
"We know that, unfortunately, many children have to visit the emergency room because of accidental medication exposures," said Dan Budnitz, MD, director of the CDC's Medication Safety Program. "To help combat these preventable harms, the Up and Away and Out of Sight program gives parents and caregivers the information they need to store medicine safely and protect children."
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