Medicine Chest Alert: Drugs Cause Most Child Poisonings

An analysis of emergency department visits by CDC researchers finds most childhood medication poisonings are a result of accidental ingestion rather than parent or caregiver error. Experts believe safety innovations in medication packaging will help.

A recent analysis by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than two thirds of emergency department (ED) visits for childhood poisonings involved prescription or OTC medications, and most were attributable to unsupervised accidental medication ingestions.

Most of those ingestions were among toddlers, researchers at CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality and Promotion found after analyzing data from 2 years of pediatric ED visits for unintentional medication overdoses. Approximately 1 of every 180 ED visits by 2-year-olds was due to accidental medication overdose.

The medications most often accidentally ingested by children included acetaminophen, opioids or benzodiazepines, cough and cold medicines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and antidepressants.

"We feel these data suggest that new poisoning prevention efforts should focus on the problems of medication poisoning," urged senior study author Daniel Budnitz, MD, who heads the agency's Medication Safety Program. "Unsupervised medication ingestions caused more than 80% of the ED visits. These ED visits for unsupervised ingestions are 10 times more common than overdoses from medication doses by a parent or caregiver."

Budnitz suggests incorporating "passive safety innovations" into medication packaging, such as flow restrictors-which prevent children from drinking directly from medication bottles, even when the cap is off-or unit-dose packaging. He said that the CDC is currently working with OTC drug manufacturers to encourage the implementation of such innovations.

The findings appear online and in this month's issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.