In the past 12 months, Riley at IU Health has seen a little over 650 cases of child poisoning. Indiana Poison Center reported that over half of their calls involve children. In 2021, 26,561 total cases of child poisoning were reported. Although that is about 5,000 cases less than 2014, the percent of cases with moderate to major outcomes, such as death, has increased from 3.3% to 5.5%. That 2% is a large number of lives that are majorly affected by poisonings.
Many times, the poisoning is due to over-the-counter or prescription medicines. The poison center also deals with poisonings that involve carbon monoxide, insecticides, industrial solvents and cleaners.
“The most common medicines children take are over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen, however vitamins can also be a danger due to the iron in them,” said Lauren Buenger, PharmD, and ER clinical pharmacist at Riley at IU Health.
The most common way children get into medicine is when it is not kept locked up, or when it is left in a purse or bag that is out of reach. A significant percentage also occurs when the child gets into a pill minder or organizer from a parent, sibling, or other relative. that is usually securely stored or lockable.
“A peak time for these types of poisonings is during travel times, such as during the summer or around the holidays. Many times, when relatives or friends come to visit, they may have medicines with them in their purse or suitcase and that can be a danger,” said Deirdre George Davis, MPH, Coordinator – Poison Prevention, Indiana Poison Center at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “Another potential hazard is when families travel to other houses that are not childproofed, such as a relative’s home.”
Access is the No. 1 way to prevent exposure. Doing whatever you can to prevent access is very important. Keeping medicines on a high shelf is not enough.
“We recommend keeping medicine in a box, such as a tackle box, with a combination lock on it,” said George Davis. “That is the safest way to keep it out of children’s hands.”
If you suspect a child has ingested medicine or other poison, the first thing you should do is call the Indiana Poison Center at 800.222.1222. If the child is unconscious or not breathing, call 9-1-1 immediately. “The Poison Center has experts who deal with this on a daily basis, and they have protocols based on which medicine was taken and how much the child weighs, for example,” said George Davis. “Many times, the child can be treated at home, with the advice from the poison control center.”
“If the Poison Center directs you to take your child to the ER, they will communicate with the ER and let them know what to expect and to provide any information that may help your child,” said Blake Froberg, MD, medical toxicologist and pediatric hospitalist at Riley at IU Health.
So how can you help ensure that your child won’t end up in the ER for poisoning? The following tips will keep children safe and help prevent an accidental overdose:
- Keep all medicines in the home locked in a box with a combination lock.
- Keep all medicine in its original container.
- Avoid taking a pill in front of a child and never tell a child that medicine is candy.
- Know what is in a purse or bag and never leave items unattended when children are in the home.
- Know how much of your personal medication is left and how many doses you have taken from a container, so that if a child does take some you have a better idea of how many might have been ingested.
Adult medicines are not the only danger. Be sure your child receives the correct dosage of their own medicine as well.
“Talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about the dosing and ask for a dosing spoon to be sure you are giving precise amounts,” said Buenger.
Your pharmacist can also tell you how to correctly dispose of old, unused medicine. There are many ways to correctly dispose of medication. Michael McGregory also noted that Riley at IU Health has a take back box now where individuals can dispose of unused prescription medicines in their outpatient lobby. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, has twice a year medication take-back days, and some police stations will also accept medications for destruction. At any of these sites, any medications, not just controlled substances, can be dropped off.
Additionally, “National Pharmacy Week — October 19-25 — is a good time to review poison prevention and clean out your own medicine cabinet, ensuring that your home is a safe place for children,” said Michael McGregory, PharmD, MBA, Director of Pharmacy at Riley at IU Health.