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Kids and Medication Safety: 6 Must-Do's for Parents

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  June 3, 2013 07:51 AM

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pill bottle.jpgKids get into their parents' medications.

That's the bottom line of a study just released in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers from Boston Children's Hospital looked at data from the National Medicare Surveys to find out which medications were most commonly prescribed to adults, and then looked at data about pediatric poisonings from the National Poison Data system. They found that as medications were prescribed more to adults, the number of poisonings from those medications went up too. 

This is not exactly surprising. Every year, more than 60,000 children (most of them younger than 5 years) are evaluated in emergency departments for "unintentional medication exposures", i.e. taking medications they aren't supposed to--and of those children, 12 percent end up hospitalized. The medications are usually prescription medications, as opposed to over-the-counter ones, and usually belong to an adult relative.

But here's the thing: more adults are being prescribed medication. Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of US adults who took at least one prescription medication went up 10 percent. Given the epidemic of obesity, that number is only going to go up. Three of the most commonly prescribed medications, antihyperlipidemics (cholesterol drugs), antidiabetic drugs and beta-blockers (for high blood pressure) are used to treat complications of obesity.

So we really need to take medication safety seriously.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with PROTECT, has an Up and Away campaign to help prevent these poisonings. Here are the 6 things they say all parents should do:

1. Pick a place your children can't reach. Literally. Preferably somewhere a little kid can't reach standing on a chair, either (some kids' vitamins taste yummy enough to make it worth the effort--and curiosity is a great motivator). Like the top of the refrigerator, or a really high cabinet. This can be a particular challenge when you are away from home; keep all your medication together in one bag, and as soon as you get to your destination, find a safe place to put that bag.

2. Put medicines away every time. It can be so tempting to leave it out for convenience--like when your child has a high fever and you're pretty sure the acetaminophen will be needed again in four hours, or when you are taking pain meds for an injury that makes it hard to move around. But convenience simply isn't a good enough reason to risk a poisoning.

3. Make sure the safety cap is locked. Take the extra few seconds to push it down and twist and be sure it clicks into place. Not that safety caps guarantee a child won't get into them (sometimes I think they keep adults out more than kids)--so a safety cap isn't a reason to leave a medication within reach.

4. Teach your children about medication safety. Make sure they understand that while medications can help people, they can also be dangerous--so they should never, ever take them by themselves. As hard as it can be to get a kid to take their medicine, resist the temptation to call it "candy"--that's something you could seriously end up regretting.

5. Tell guests about medication safety. It might feel a bit socially awkward, but it is absolutely fine--necessary, really--to ask your house guests to keep any medication they are taking out of reach. Don't wait until you find it on the bathroom sink or bedside table; make the conversation part of the settling in, here's-your-bed-and-your-towels process.

6. Be prepared in case of an emergency. This is easy: all you need to know is the Poison Help Center number, which is 1-800-222-1222. Keep it by your house phone, program it into your cell phone--and call it immediately if you think your child might have taken something. It's helpful if you have whatever it is they took in your hand when you call--and also helpful if you know what your child weighs (an estimate is fine).

Check out the Up and Away website for all sorts of great information and downloadable materials.

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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