When you think of accidental ingestion of poisons among children, you likely think of them getting into cleaning products, bleach and insect killers under the sink. While this can and does happen, prescription drug ingestion is also highly likely to occur among children. Think about it: the pills look like candy, the bottles are often left out within reach on sink tops, and kids may think those pills are healthy for them because they’re medicine. But about 53,000 children under the age of five visit the ER each year due to unsupervised ingestion of prescription meds, according to the CDC.
There are real health risks to overdosing on prescription medications, even in smaller amounts. Opioids in particular can cause vomiting, changes in mood, decrease in cognitive and respiratory function and even coma or death, according to KidsHealth. When those prescriptions drugs are taken in conjunction with alcohol or antihistamines, the risk of illness and death is even higher, especially for teens. Prescription meds that contain CNS depressants can also present a health risk. If you stop taking them abruptly, this can lead to seizures. Combining these depressants with painkillers and even cold and allergy medications can decrease heart rate and breathing. Ingesting drugs meant for treatment of ADHD can cause seizures, high fever and even heart failure. Addiction is a very real possibility when it comes to abusing prescription medications, especially in the case of young teens, who may combine pills with alcohol. Going to rehab may be a real possibility for a teen who has become addicted. The risk for death is higher in young children because their bodies are so small and their systems can’t take as much as adults can. In fact, it could take just one adult dose of beta-blockers such as atenolol (used to decrease blood pressure) to send a child to the hospital, says NPR. If a young child were to get their hands on diabetes pills, they could die.
Fortunately, there are ways you can safeguard your children against accidental ingestion of prescription drugs. Keep all medications – including over-the-counter doses and vitamins – up high and out of their reach. Lock them in a cabinet so little climbers can’t get to them. Don’t leave out medicines after using them, such as on a bedside table or counter, advises Family Doctor. Don’t encourage the belief that medicine tastes like candy, just to get your child to take it when they need it. Don’t let your kids play with empty prescription bottles. Make sure grandparents and other guests know to hang up their bags and purses, as many times they have lots of medication that could be fatal to curious children. When closing up bottles, make sure you hear the distinctive click to ensure the cap is on securely. However, this doesn’t mean a child safety cap will deter all children. Many adept young kids can easily manage these caps, especially if they have seen you do it many times. That’s why it’s important to keep these medicines up high and out of reach.
Do all you can to prevent accidental overdose of prescription medication in your children. Keep up on the latest safety precautions and make sure all of your children’s caregivers, such as grandparents and babysitters, know what to do if an accident occurs. With vigilance on your part and constant reminders from you, you can help keep kids safe from accidental medication ingestion.
Having a conversation with older teens about the dangers of combining prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances is also important. Remind them that no matter how careful they are, mistakes can happen; using good judgment when it comes to taking any kind of medicine is key to keeping them safe. Don’t forget that talking to school-age children about not taking medicine unless under supervision is also important. Teaching kids at this age to recognize potential dangers may help prevent tragedies in the future. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to keep your children safe from accidental medication ingestion. Be proactive in keeping them informed and know how to respond if an emergency arises. Keeping medications out of reach and teaching kids about potential dangers can go a long way in preventing accidents. Get the help you need for yourself or family members struggling with addiction by seeking support through local resources such as AA, NA, or other groups. With vigilance on your part and open dialogue between you and your children, you can help minimize the risk of tragedy due to medication overdose.