3 Easy Steps to Curb Child Drug Overdoses

Three easy steps can help reduce the odds of children accidentally overdosing on medications.

Three easy steps can help reduce the odds of children accidentally overdosing on medications.

A recent study in Pediatrics reviewed trends in emergency room (ER) trips relating to unsupervised medication exposures among children ages 6 or younger and found that the number of related ER visits rose annually by an average of 5.7% between 2004 and 2010.

After 2010, however, this trend reversed—falling by an average of 6.7% annually through 2013.

The study authored credited the reversal to targeted prevention efforts based on harm frequency and intervention feasibility. Nevertheless, they concluded that more work needs to be done.

Here are some steps that pharmacists can tell parents to take at home in order to ensure that their children do not fall victim to accidental overdose:

1. Clean out your medicine cabinet.

The typical home medicine cabinet contains an assortment of prescription medications, OTC pain relievers, multivitamins, and herbal remedies for each family member.

Holding onto drugs that are no longer needed poses serious risks to children who likely do not understand the medications.

Study investigators found that 91% of unsupervised exposure ER visits involved just 1 medication, normally an oral prescription solid (45.9%), oral OTC solid (22.3%), or oral OTC liquid (12.4%).

Michael J. Gaunt, PharmD, previously wrote about the dangers of leaving unused medicine around children, noting “child-resistant does not men childproof.”

2. Keep medications out of sight.

Leaving prescriptions lined up on the counter may be a useful reminder to stay adherent, but with young children in the house, it’s just an accident waiting to happen.

Beyond keeping medications out of a child’s view, parents should store their prescriptions in a location that is physically beyond a child’s reach.

When relocking the medication bottle, it is important to turn it until you hear the “click” or can’t turn it anymore. Taking shortcuts has potentially fatal consequences for children.

Finally, parents should educate their children about the dangers of accidently ingesting medications and should never, under any circumstances, tell their kids that medicine is “candy” in order to coerce them into taking it.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Up and Away” campaign can serve as a helpful resource for parents looking to completely childproof their medication regimens.

3. Consider attaching a slow-flow adapter to liquid medications.

Of the ER visits involving young children and unsupervised medication ingestion, 12.4% involved an oral OTC liquid.

Four oral liquid medications in particular comprised 91.2% of these visits, including acetaminophen (32.9%), cough and cold remedies (27.5%), ibuprofen (15.7%), and diphenhydramine (15.6%).

Adding flow restrictors (rubber stoppers attached to the neck of a medicine bottle) to liquid medication containers may help prevent young children from unintentionally ingesting oral medications even when child-safety caps are not fully closed.