The number of accidental poisonings from medication is on the increase among American children. Despite the use of childproof caps and safety warnings, the number of accidental drug poisonings requiring a hospital visit increased by 22 percent between 2001 and 2008, reaching over a half-million children aged 5 and younger during this period. The researchers attribute these findings to the growing use of prescription drugs by adults. Partly due to obesity, adults are taking medication on a regular basis at an increasingly young age, which in turn increases the presence of these substances in children’s environments.
In 95 percent of cases, the poisoning occurred when the children ingested a drug that was not intended for them. Only 5 percent of cases were due to a labeling or dosage error. The medications most commonly involved were pain-relieving opioids, sedatives, sleep aids and heart medications.
Prescription medication accounted for 55 percent of the drug poisoning visits to the emergency room. In fact, 43 percent of the children admitted to the hospital after accidentally ingesting a prescription drug ended up in intensive care. You don’t fool around with drug poisoning!
The authors suggest that part of the solution might be to design packages that would not only be more difficult for young to open children, but also that would make it more difficult to ingest large quantities of medication. For instance, liquid medication bottles that restrict flow and pill bottles that dispense only one tablet at a time could improve child safety.
This study also adds more weight to the importance of keeping medication out of the reach of children, ideally in a locked cabinet. While this may be less convenient than keeping medication handy, it is a simple precaution that can prevent a lot of accidents. And when grand-parents are visiting, pay close attention to their medications, especially if they don’t have child-resistant closures.