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Safety & Prevention

Medication Safety Tips for Families

Medication Safety Tips Medication Safety Tips

Each year, about 50,000 children under age 5 go to emergency departments for poisoning after getting ahold of medicine.

When you need them, medicines can improve lives and even save them. But too much of any medicine can be deadly for a toddler, child or teenager. This is why prescription medicine and over-the-counter medicine should be kept out of their reach.

Protecting children & teens

Many common medicines, such as opioids, heart and diabete drugs, 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 choices with pills, especially prescriptions, often with tragic results.

If your child is unconscious, not breathing, or having seizures from possible poison contact or ingestion, call 911 or your local emergency number. If your child has mild or no symptoms, call the Poison Help number, 1-800-222-1222.

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 medicine safety tips for parents, grandparents and anyone who has 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. This means it is hard for a young child to open the cap. No medicine container is fully childproof.

  • Store all over-the-counter and prescription medicines in their original packages in locked cabinets or containers. Safety latches that lock when you close a cabinet door can help keep children away from harmful products, but they do not always work.

  • Consider buying a small safe or lockbox to lock up all medicines and drugs.

  • Put medicines back in safe storage right after using them. Never leave children alone with medicines. If you have medicine open and you must do something else, like answer the phone, take the medicine with you.

  • Remind babysitters, grandparents and other visitors to keep purses, bags or jackets that have medicines in them away from children's reach.

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. For many opioids and other powerful painkillers, even a small amount consumed or absorbed through the skin (liquid and patches) 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. This includes reading the label each time you give over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, two popular pain and fever medicines. 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 medicine syringe or dropper to measure the correct amount. Don't use regular kitchen spoons, because they are not accurate for measuring medicine. For example: 5 milliliters (mL) is equal to 1 teaspoon (tsp); 15 milliliters (mL) is equal to 3 teaspoons (tsp) and also equal to 1 tablespoon (Tbsp). (See, "How to Use Liquid Medicines for Children.")

  • Be aware that some over-the-counter medicine is adult-strength and never should be used with children. Talk about safer options with your pediatrician or pharmacist.

  • Give the medicine at the times you are supposed to, based on your prescription or what your doctor told you. If you forget to give a dose, give it as soon as possible and give the next dose at the correct time following the late dose.

Get answers

  • Ask questions. Many parents have trouble understanding medicine instructions. If you are confused about how to give your child a medicine, it is better to ask questions than to give the medicine incorrectly.

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to show you how much medicine to give using the dosing tool you plan to use. Or tell your doctor or pharmacist how much you plan to give. Then ask if what you said is correct.

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to write down the instructions on a piece of paper for you to take home.

  • Ask for information in the language you prefer. Have an interpreter give you instructions in your preferred language.

  • Check with your child's doctor or pharmacist before mixing medicine with food or liquid.

Avoid unnecessary medicines

  • Give medications that treat symptoms (such as long-lasting cough) only if your child needs it. Over-the-counter cough or cold medicines is not recommended for children under age 6, and they should never be used in children under 2.

  • Cold medications often have more than one type of medicine in one bottle. Do not give a medicine for fever or pain if you already gave a cold medicine that has a fever or pain medicine in it. It is usually best to give one medicine at a time.

  • You can give medicine to lower your child's fever if your child has a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that fever is a sign that the body is getting rid of the infection. Medicine to bring fever down is more an issue of comfort for a child. It's not necessary if your child is comfortable.

Safely dispose of medications

Safely discard of all unused medications, particularly powerful drugs like opioids. Read the medicine label for safe ways to get rid of old or extra medicine. Medicine patches used for pain relief should be removed, folded in half and flushed. 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 here.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Councils on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention and Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (Copyright © 2021)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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