Pills Kill Kids Because Adults Make it Easy
New study finds parents and grandparents frequently remove drugs from child-proof containers and leave them lying around
Meds, meds, meds. The more adults take, the more there are for kids to get into. Some 50,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year after eating pills that weren’t for them, and a new study finds that more than half the time, adults had removed the pills from child-proof containers.
Most often, the pills belonged to the childrens’ parents. “However, for some prescription medications that can be very harmful to young children in small amounts (e.g., diabetes or cardiac medications), over half belonged to grandparents,” researchers report in the Journal of Pediatrics.
More than 70% of the cases involved children 2 years old or younger.
The consequences can be grave. In a separate study, published in the journal JAMA Open Network, researchers determined that between 1999 and 2016, 8,986 children and adolescents died from poisonings by illicit and prescription opioids. Over those years, the rate of these deaths grew 268%.
And that’s just one type of drug. The opportunities are many.
Lax at home
According to the new study, based on a review of calls to five U.S. poison control centers, the most common reasons kids get into pills are when pills are removed from the child-proof containers, by adults…
- for ease of travel or transport
- for convenience and/or otherwise to remember to take them
- unintentionally, perhaps dropped or spilled
“These data suggest it may be time to place greater emphasis on encouraging adults to keep medicines in containers with child-resistant features,” says the new study’s senior author, Dr. Daniel Budnitz, of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While medicines may be relatively safe for adults, as prescribed, that’s often far from the case if children get into them, whether the drugs are prescribed or purchased over-the-counter (OTC), according to the National Safety Council.
“Children are far more susceptible than adults to the effects of medicines,” the NSC says. “Their bodies and neurological systems are still developing, and even small amounts of these drugs can be difficult for them to metabolize. If you haven’t thought much about what’s in the medicine cabinet, it’s time to take notice.”
The new study, which found about two-thirds of the cases involved over-the-counter meds, is not the first to point out the problem. Health experts were already well aware that medicines are the leading cause of child poisoning.
Teens at risk, too
The risks of leaving medications lying around extend beyond young children, of course. Some 14% of teens abuse painkillers without their parents knowing it, according to the NSC. “More than 10,000 children younger than 18 end up in emergency rooms every year for self-administering and overdosing on OTC medicines,” the agency states.
And parents need to know what kids do not. Only 54% of young teens are aware that over-the-counter drugs can be dangerous, according to Scholastic. “They mistakenly think OTC drugs are safer because you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to get them,” the NSC says.
The CDC recommends, of course, keeping drugs in the original child-resistant packaging. If they must be removed, the agency suggests:
- Use another child-resistant container and keep it securely closed.
- Put meds up and away and out of a child’s reach and sight immediately after every use.
- Keep anything containing meds — pockets, purses or other bags — out of reach of young children.
- If pills are spilled, count carefully to make sure all of them are picked up.
If you even suspect a child might have gotten into a medicine or even a vitamin, call the national Poison Control hotline at (800–222–1222). The CDC recommends saving that number into your smartphone now.