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Practice safe medication storage with children at home

Medications are often panaceas, providing relief when you’re sick. But, in the hands of children, they can be dangerous, even fatal. In 2017 alone, there were more than 50,000 visits to the emergency room by children under the age of 6 due to accidental medicine poisoning, according to Safe Kids, a nonprofit that works to help keep kids safe from injuries. In the vast majority of these instances, kids accessed drugs when caregivers weren’t looking. 

Every parent and caregiver starts out with the best of intentions and stores pills in an inaccessible location, but sometimes convenience wins out. If your child has a fever, you might end up stashing the Tylenol in a nightstand, leaving it on the kitchen counter, or throwing it in a tote bag when running out the door.

It’s in these moments when little ones find medication in places within sight and reach—such as countertops, pillboxes, purses, diaper bags, refrigerators, and cabinets. Several reports indicate that in the majority of accidental poisonings involving young children, the medicine was not in its usual or “normal” storage location.

5 child-safe medicine storage tips

How do you store medicine? Use these important medication storage ideas to keep your children safe.

1. Think of medicine broadly.

“Any medication—including over-the-counter and herbal or supplement products—can be a true safety hazard to children,” according to Jeanie Jaramillo-Stametz, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in pharmacy practice at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, School of Pharmacy. Even eye drops and diaper cream can pose a safety hazard. To make sure that medication is easy to identify, keep it in its original packaging. 

2. Keep meds out of reach and sight.

Always store drugs in a hidden, high-up location, ideally under lock and key, recommends Dr. Jaramillo-Stametz. When determining a good spot, keep in mind that kids are climbers (for instance, onto a toilet to reach a medicine cabinet). The Safe Kids 2017 report revealed that in half of over-the-counter medicine poisoning cases, it was because a child had climbed on a chair, toy, or other item to reach it.

3. Don’t rely on child-resistant packaging.

Child-resistant and child-safety caps are a great invention—but don’t let them lull you into a false sense of security. “Medication safety caps are never child-proof,” Dr. Jaramillo-Stametz emphasizes. “They are child-resistant, but there are children out there who are still able to open these caps.” 

Parents and caregivers should always ensure medicine caps are closed properly: Twist until you hear a click or cannot turn any further.

4. Teach children about medication safety.

Even from a young age, it’s important to educate your kids about medication safety. Never describe drugs as candy, and make sure they know only adults can dispense drugs. You should also caution them to never take anyone else’s pills, such as grandma’s or a school friend’s. Finally, teach them how to read drug labels—even on over-the-counter pills. Your children should learn that labels are rules, rather than guidelines. As they get older, explain to pre-teens and teens that taking more than the recommended dose will not help them get better any faster and could hurt them. 

5. Instruct others about children and medication safety.

Equally critical, make sure other caregivers (whether they be babysitters or grandparents), follow these safety tips—no matter if they are at your home or their own. According to Up and Away, a CDC initiative, “Nearly one out of every four grandparents say they store prescription medications in easy-access places, and 18% keep over-the-counter medicines in easily accessible spots.” 

That’s why, before your children visit others, it’s wise to ask homeowners to place any medications out of reach and sight. Also, tell anyone who stores medications in their purse to place their bags in the designated medication storage spot. Then, if they need to remove any pills, they should do so and immediately return their bags to that difficult-to-access location. 

6. Declutter the medicine cabinet.

If you have old prescriptions lingering, find out how you can dispose of them safely by putting them in a medication dropbox, flushing them, or mixing them with trash. If you have unexpired, unopened pills, consider donating them to a charity that can match them with someone in need. When they’re not in the house, they can’t be a danger.

RELATED: How to recycle pill bottles