Each year, about 50,000 children under age 5 go to emergency departments for poisoning after getting ahold of medications left within their reach.
Medicines, when you need them, can improve lives and even save them. But many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also be deadly in the hands of a toddler, child or teenager.
Protecting children & teens
Many common medicines, such as
opioids, heart and diabetes medications, and even prenatal vitamins can be fatal for babies and young children in very small doses—a pill or two. And teenagers can make poor decisions around pills, especially prescription medications, often with tragic results.
Just like you protect your child in your vehicle by using car seats and seat belts, you need to protect your children at home by locking up medicines and
other common household poisons. Here are some medication safety tips for parents, grandparents and others who may have a child or teen in their home:
Safe storage: out of reach & sight
Use medicine containers with safety caps and keep them out of reach and sight of children. Remember that safety caps are child resistant, but not fully child proof.
Store medicine, including over-the-counter medicines, in their original packaging in locked cabinets or containers. Safety latches that automatically lock when you close a cabinet door can help keep children away from dangerous products, but they can fail or break.
Consider buying a small safe or lockbox where you can lock up all medications and drugs.
Put medicines back in safe storage right after using them. Never leave children alone with medicines. If you are giving or taking medicine and you have to do something else, such as answer the phone, take the medicine with you.
Remind babysitters, grandparents and anyone else who visits your home to keep purses, bags, or jackets that may have medicines in them where children can't get to them.
Taking & giving your child medicine
When taking medicine, do it over a bathroom sink and/or away from common areas of your home. If you spill medicine, clean it up immediately. Remember that stronger medicines deserve even greater respect and care. For many opioids and other powerful painkillers, even a small amount consumed can be life-threatening.
Never refer to medicine as "candy" or another appealing name. This can confuse or tempt a child to try other pills when you're not watching.
Be careful to give the correct dose, and measure it out exactly. For most emergency visits involving medication errors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young children were given the wrong dose of medicine by mistake.
Use a medication syringe or dropper to measure the correct amount. One teaspoon = 5ml (cc). Don’t use regular
kitchen spoons, because they are not standard sizes and are not accurate for
Be especially careful when using
over-the-counter medications. Some adult strength medications are never used with children. Talk with your pediatrician or pharmacist.
Give the medicine at the prescribed times. If you forget a dose, give it as soon as possible and give the next dose at the correct time following the late dose.
Ask your child's doctor or pharmacist before mixing medication with
food or liquid. If medication is mixed with food or liquid, ALL of it must be taken.
Avoid unnecessary medicines
Give medications that treat symptoms (such as lingering cough) only if your child needs it, and never to children under 2. Continued use is usually not necessary. Talk with your pediatrician.
Fever reducing medication can be given for a fever. Remember that fever can be the body's way to fight infection. Bringing that fever down is more an issue of comfort for a child, and it's not necessary if your child is not uncomfortable.
Cold medications often have multiple medications mixed together in one bottle, and this can be very confusing. For example, you do not want to give a fever reducer again if it is already in a cold medication. Simple, single medications are usually best to avoid confusion.
Safely dispose of medications
Safely discard of all unused medications, particularly powerful drugs like opioids. Many pharmacies, poison control centers, public safety stations and doctor's offices will accept old medicines for safe disposal but call first. For more information, visit