Easter baskets are a sweet sign of Spring. But take heed: Preschoolers can easily mistake common drugs for treats brought by the Bunny. “We call them lookalikes—medicines that resemble candy,” says James B. Mowry, PharmD, manager of poison control at Indiana University Health. “Most young children can’t tell products apart by reading labels. They look at shapes and colors.” In fact, Dr. Mowry says about 50 percent of all calls to Indiana’s poison center concern kids ages 6 and under, and many involve accidental ingestion of lookalike drugs.
Your first line of defense: “Store all medicines and poisons out of sight and out of reach of children. And never keep such items near food or drinks,” Dr. Mowry says. Reduce your child’s risk of drug poisoning even further by avoiding these common mistakes.
Mistake 1: Assuming safety containers are secure
Child-resistant doesn’t mean child-proof. “The industry standard is that a child cannot get into a medicine container within 10 minutes,” Dr. Mowry explains. “The flip side is that adults need to get into the container within five minutes. With enough time, even young children can defeat a safety cap.” He says parents sometimes leave kids alone with a medicine bottle due to an unexpected distraction—say, the phone rings or the kitchen timer beeps. “That might be all the time your child needs,” Dr. Mowry warns. His advice: Never ever leave medicine out, even in a closed container.
Mistake 2: Letting down your guard on vacation
Whether you’re jetting away for the spring holiday or hosting overnight guests, travel containers can pose risks to young kids. “Most portable pill minders and medicine boxes are not child-resistant,” Dr. Mowry points out. And many are made of clear plastic, leaving lookalike meds visible. On family trips, opt for opaque containers with child-resistant features, or safeguard meds in a bag with lockable compartments. For guests staying in your home, offer a lockable drawer or an out-of-reach shelf for medications.
Mistake 3: Relying on warning stickers
Once recommended for households with young children, adhesive warning labels with pictures like Mr. Yuk or a stop sign are now considered poor deterrents. “We’ve found that the stickers create a situation where parents have to label everything that’s poisonous; otherwise a child can think that anything lacking a sticker is safe to ingest,” Dr. Mowry explains. And even if you could label all dangerous substances in your home, studies have shown that curious kids are often attracted to the bright stickers, he notes. Better to store harmful substances out of sight and out of reach altogether.
If your child accidentally ingests a harmful substance, call the American Association of Poison Centers at 1.800.222.1222.
The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained operators can advise you on administering first aid and—in the minority of cases when necessary—coordinate care with local emergency responders.
-- By Erin Quinlan