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Medication Poisoning: Keep Kids SAFE

Something you may depend on to help keep your kids well might also threaten their safety. It's medicine.

It becomes a problem – a poisonous one – when children get too much or take something they shouldn't. That includes prescriptions and over-the-counter products, such as pain relievers, cold medicines and even vitamins.

Some kids get into medicine when no one's looking. Others may be given too much by their caregivers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than 80 percent of emergency department visits among those younger than age 12 are children who've ingested a medicine while unsupervised.
  • About 10 percent of emergency visits in this age group happen because of mistakes in how medicines are given.

Think SAFE

Take these steps to help protect kids:

  • Store securely. Put all non-refrigerated medicines – including vitamins and herbal products – in a high, locked cabinet. They should be in their original, labeled containers with childproof lids. If you keep medicines in a handbag or pillbox, put that out of reach, too. And, ask visitors to your home to do the same.
  • Act with care. Make sure you're giving medicines correctly. Many come in liquid form. It's best to use the dosing spoons, droppers, syringes or cups that come with them. Be careful to fill the measuring device to the correct level. Do this in a well-lit room. Don't use kitchen spoons. They're usually not the right size. And, never give a medicine that was prescribed for someone else.
  • Follow the label's – and your doctor's – instructions. Before giving any over-the-counter product, check with your child's doctor. And, read the package directions to be sure it's appropriate for your child. Never give more medicine than is advised.
  • Empty out your cabinet. Keeping drugs that have expired – or are no longer used – raises the risk of accidental poisoning.

If you're not sure how to dispose of a medicine safely, ask your pharmacist. Don't toss items where kids or pets could find them. This includes medical supplies, such as nicotine patches or syringes. The Food and Drug AdministrationOpens a new window offers more tips on this. Search for "safe disposal of medicines." And, teach kids – at an early age – about medicine safety and poisons. Make sure they know they need to ask an adult before touching or tasting anything.

Just in case

Be ready for an emergency. The poison control number is 1-800-222-1222. Post it near all your phones. Program it into handsets and cellphones, as well.

Don't miss these warnings

Ask your child's doctor how and when to use over-the-counter medicines. Expert opinions vary about the ages for which products can be used safely. If possible, have this conversation before your child gets sick.

Talk about these basic safety rules:

  • Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children younger than age 2 years. There is a risk of life-threatening side effects for this age group. In fact, many package labels say not to use the medicine for children younger than age 4.
  • For safety's sake, do not give these medicines to any child without checking with the doctor first.
  • Some cough and cold medicines contain fever-reducers. Don't combine them with other fever-reducing drugs, such as acetaminophen. This can cause an overdose.

Source: Healthy Mind Healthy Body®, Tanise Edwards, M.D., July 2012.

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