Nearly 6,000 calls came into the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital in 2015 as a result of a child under 5 getting into some kind of medication.
That’s about one call for every normal waking hour.
“Calls come because children have either gotten access to medication they should not or perhaps a child has accidentally received a double dose of their own medication,” said Maria Chapman, educator with the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital.
The high number of calls puts medications on the list of the top five poisons, according to the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center. One reason is the dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions found in homes. According to a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more adults are now taking prescriptions, and 15 percent of Americans are on five or more medications. This increase in prescriptions is responsible for nearly 60,000 trips to emergency departments in the United States each year for children alone, according to a Safe Kids Worldwide report.
Here are three precautions parents should take:
1. Keep prescriptions in a safe place. Seems obvious, except for this fact: Child resistant caps are not childproof. “The caps slow a curious child down, but they don’t stop them from getting into a medication,” Chapman said. “The most important thing you can do is put all medications in a secure place, out of reach of children.”
2. And while you’re at it, secure Grandma and Grandpa’s meds. Remarkably, nearly half of the children who needed emergency treatment consumed medication that belonged to a grandparent, Safe Kids Worldwide found. So when you’re visiting your relatives, don’t forget the medication that could be easily reached in grandma or grandpa’s cabinets or a family member’s purse or suitcase.
3. Slow down and get it right. Double-dosing often occurs when parents are going through their busy morning routines and forget they’ve already given a child one dose, or when one adult in the household administers a medication and forgets to tell the other adult.
“Develop a system for giving medication, perhaps a checklist that helps you remember if you’ve already given that day’s dose,” Chapman said. “It may seem obvious, but when you’re trying to get the family out the door on time in the morning, that list can prevent a problem.
“Medication boxes marked with the day of the week make it easy to remember, but they’re also easy for small hands to open and aren’t a good option for households with children.”
And remember, the risk of overdosing on prescription drugs is not limited to small children. The problem is prevalent in teens as well. Given greater responsibility for taking their own medications, teens can overdose from either accidentally or deliberately taking too much medication.
No matter what your child gets into, call the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center’s 24/7 hotline at (800) 222-1222.
“We can help you determine if you actually need to seek emergency care,” Chapman said. “Some medications will not cause a problem, but others may be extremely harmful to children with just one dose.
“If your child needs to go to the hospital, we can call ahead to the emergency department and give them instructions on what to do. However, if your child is not breathing or unconscious, you need to call 911 immediately.”