Half of child poisonings due to adults removing safety packaging

More than half of children under age 5 who are poisoned by prescription pills ate them after an adult — often a grandparent — removed the child-resistant safety packaging.

Parents and grandparents are unintentionally contributing to 50,000 emergency room visits each year by removing prescription drugs’ child-resistant packaging.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, more than half of children under age 5 who are poisoned by prescription pills ate them after an adult removed the safety packaging. Nearly a third of those cases involved grandparents’ medicines.

The Kentucky Poison Control Center of Norton Children’s Hospital is seeing a similar trend. The center averages about 8,000 calls a year for medication exposures in children 5 and younger.

“We often find caregivers take medicines out of tough-to-open containers and put them in easy-to-reach places for convenience,” said Maria Chapman, poison prevention coordinator with the Kentucky Poison Control Center. “Unfortunately, that also gives young children easy access to some dangerous pills.”

The study showed the most common prescriptions that are stored incorrectly include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications; opioids; anticonvulsants (seizure medicines); and diabetic and heart medicines. The ADHD medications and opioids often were not in any container, while the others were in a container that was easy for a child to open.

“We receive calls about the drugs listed in the study as well as pain relievers, antacids, laxatives and antihistamines,” Chapman said. “As some of these medications can have significant effects on children, it’s important for adults to keep medicines in containers with child-resistant features.”

Kentucky Poison Control Center

Our mission is to reduce illness and death from poisoning in Kentucky. For more information, including a list of drug disposal sites, go to

If you think someone has been poisoned, call us right away. We’re staffed around the clock.

(800) 222-1222


The Kentucky Poison Control Center recommends always keeping prescription and over-the-counter medications in their original, labeled and child-resistant containers. For homes with small children, the center cautions against daily pill organizers unless they also are child-resistant. Other tips include:

  • Store medication up and out of reach of children.
  • Try to avoid taking medication in front of small children, as kids may try to mimic the behavior.
  • Have a system for tracking doses of medications given to children that is accessible to all adults/caregivers. This will help prevent accidentally giving a child multiple doses in a short period of time.

“We also want to remind parents that ‘child-resistant’ doesn’t mean ‘childproof,’” Chapman said. “Caregivers always need to be vigilant.”