Medications are often panaceas, providing relief. Yet, when they get in the hands of children, they can also prove dangerous, even fatal. According to the organization Safe Kids, in 2017 there were more than 50,000 visits to the emergency room by children under the age of 6 due to accidental medicine poisoning. In the vast majority of these instances, kids accessed drugs when caregivers weren’t looking.
While every parent and caregiver may start out with the best of intentions and store pills in an inaccessible location, 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.
Safe Kids—a nonprofit that works to help keep kids safe from injuries—says that little ones often find medicine in places within sight and reach, such as countertops, pillboxes, purses, diaper bags, refrigerators, and reachable cabinets. According to a 2017 report from Safe Kids Worldwide, in three out of five accidental poisonings involving young children, the medicine was not in its usual or “normal” storage location.
Wondering how can you keep your children safe at home? Read on for important medication storage tips.
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.
Keep meds out of reach and sight
For safe storage, always keep OTC and prescription drugs 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.
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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.
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.
This checklist from Safe Kids can help guide the discussion about medications with your children. For additional information and tips, this guide from Scholastic is a great resource.
Instruct others about children and medication safety
Equally critical, make sure other caregivers (whether they be babysitters or family members), 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 out of 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.