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Study: Medications Are Leading Cause of Accidental Child Poisoning Deaths

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When’s the last time you gave serious thought to what’s in your medicine cabinet and how accessible it might be to pint-sized explorers? Currently more children are brought to emergency rooms for medication poisonings than for car accident injuries. Today Safe Kids Worldwide released a new research report, Safe Storage, Safe Dosing, Safe Kids that shows that while the child death rate from poisoning overall has decreased, the percentage of deaths due to medications has almost doubled since the late 1970s. 

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The study researched the history of unintentional medication overdoses among children ages 14 and under. Among young children, a child ingesting medication while unsupervised causes a whopping 95 percent of medication-related poisoning visits to emergency departments; approximately five percent are due to dosing errors made by caregivers. 

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Researchers attribute this dangerous and growing trend to the fast pace of today’s lifestyle. More medications than ever are in the home (everything from prescription pain medication to dietary supplements and vitamins), and many parents, grandparents, and caregivers alike may be too distracted to immediately put medicines away in an out-of-reach and locked place. The study also pointed to the rise in multigenerational households where children may now have greater access to grandparents’ medications—and 20 percent of pediatric poisonings involve a grandparent’s medication.

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All of this adds up to the fact that medications are the leading cause of child poisoning today. “About 165 kids—or roughly four school busloads of children—are seen in emergency rooms for medication-related treatment every day in the U.S.,” said Kate Carr, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, in a press release. “Every one of those trips was preventable. We can and must do better.”

Follow these safety tips from Safe Kids Worldwide to prevent your child from accidentally overdosing or ingesting dangerous medications:

  • Always put medicines and vitamins away after every use. Never leave them on the counter between dosings. 
  • Don’t be tempted to “keep them handy” in a purse, backpack, or briefcase, or in an unlocked cabinet or a drawer within a child’s reach.  
  • Always read and follow label instructions when giving medicines to children.
  • Only use the dosing device that comes with the medication. Never use a household utensil, such as a teaspoon or tablespoon, to measure medication. 
  • Buy child-resistant packages when available and securely close them every time.
  • Remind babysitters, houseguests, and visitors to keep purses and bags that contain medicine up and away when they visit your home.
  • Wait the appropriate period of time between doses.
  • Don’t increase the dosage because your child seems sicker.
  • Never give adult medications to children.
  • Never refer to medicine as candy or tell children it tastes like candy.
  • Program the nationwide poison control center number (1-800-222-1222) into your phones.

 Has your child ever gained access to vitamins or medicine when he shouldn’t have? What happened?

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