Poison control centers across the nation recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of National Poisoning Prevention Week (March 18-24, 2012). During that week, I read several interesting articles about child safety and home medications, and thought I’d share some of what I learned.
During National Poisoning Prevention Week, a new initiative called “Safe Kids” was introduced. In conjunction with that, Safe Kids Worldwide unveiled a new initiative called “Safe Storage, Safe Dosing, Safe Kids”.
Why all the extra focus by poison control centers on keeping kids safe? (Glad you asked!!) It’s because of some new statistics that spotlight the fact that poisons alone are not the only child safety issue in the home. Those medications we stare at every day in the medicine cabinet potentially could pose an even greater risk.
EACH DAY approximately 165 kids are seen in emergency rooms after ingesting prescription medications. That’s roughly four school busloads of kids! An even more sobering statistic is that (of the children taken to emergency rooms for accidental medication overdoses) 95% swallowed the products while they were UNSUPERVISED. Only in about 5% of the cases did it involve a caregiver making a dosing error. What does that tell me? It says that we as parents and caregivers are not doing enough to keep medications out of our children’s reach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that, although the overall U.S. deaths due to poisoning among children plunged by half between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of those deaths from medications (both prescription and over-the-counter products) has nearly DOUBLED from 36% to 64%. If a single factor for this growth in medication-related deaths were identified, the answer to this problem would be simple. Unfortunately, solutions are rarely simple. The reality is that these skyrocketing statistics are due to a multitude of factors.
1) More available medications in the home
2) Improperly stored medications at home
3) Rising number of households with multiple generations, especially the elderly
4) Unsupervised children (who just love to put things into their mouths)
5) The natural curiosity of children, especially when medications look like candy
6) Momentary or intermittent unsupervised periods (like a parent or caregiver going to the bathroom)
7) Caregivers who mistakenly think “child resistant” packaging means “child proof”
8) Thinking that “over-the-counter” (OTC) means the medication is not harmful in large quantities
So, if we look at all the possible reasons (and I’ve only listed a few here) for medication poisoning of children, we can understand that we could minimize some of the risks. Let’s face it, children are curious. They always will be and we should encourage that. And children will always try to put things into their mouths. Somehow youngsters think if it looks interesting, then it must taste good also.
What we can do is assure ourselves that where our children are and where we store our medications (both prescription and OTC) are two distinctly different places (and never the two shall meet). Statistics show that we’re doing a good job of that with household cleaners and other sources of poisoning, but we’re not doing such a great job with the drugs we keep around the house. The simple solution is to LOCK DRUGS AWAY.
Whether we have more medications around the house for whatever reason, whether the packaging is indeed tamper proof, whether the medication looks yummy and enticing, it won’t matter if we don’t remember to keep the medication out of the reach of our kids. Simply by locking the medication out of sight does the trick.
When my children were young and inquisitive (still inquisitive but not so young now), the medications in our home were locked away in a toolbox and put up high in a closet. By buying a metal toolbox, getting an inexpensive padlock and finding a nice hiding place (think hiding birthday presents), we can exponentially decrease the risks of kids getting into any medication. The same advice goes to grandparents and other caregivers when our loved ones come to visit. Remember, tragedy can happen in an instant (while we’re on the phone, while taking out the trash, etc), so be prepared and put some forethought into the potential dangers to our little visitors.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.