Accidental Poisoning on the Rise

Cabinet with pill bottles next to hanging keysYour spouse just had surgery and no longer needs their pain meds. You don’t want extra pills in the cabinet, so you toss them in the trash. Later, your curious three-year-old spots them as he goes to throw away his squeezable applesauce. And because many pills are bright and look just like a sweet tart, he swallows one whole. As simple as the oversight may seem, it could carry deadly consequences.

Wrongly-ingested medications are the leading cause of accidental poisoning in children and adolescents. According to Safe Kids World Wide, two age groups are most at risk: one- and two-year-old toddlers as well as teens ages 15 to 19.

This week is National Poison Prevention week, a time specifically designated to raise awareness of poisoning and highlight the dangers. The bottom line is simple enough. Know the medications that come into your home, and take preventive steps to ensure they never fall into the wrong hands.

Here’s a snapshot of the statistics:

  • Each day, there are more than 1,100 calls to Poison Control about young children wrongly ingesting medicine. That’s more than 500,000 children in a year.
  • More than 60,000 young children are rushed to the emergency room each year for medication poisoning.
  • Close to 10,000 teens per year visit the emergency room for medication overdoses.
  • Since 1979, the number of deaths linked to accidental medication poisoning has doubled, and the number continues to rise.

So what’s responsible for the increase? A Safe Kids report cites easier access to grandparents’ medication (which often has easy-open lids), medication that’s left in accessible areas and the fact that there is more medication than ever in the home.

“The risk for poisoning is an unnecessary one,” said Stephanie Gadbois, MD, Memorial Physician Services—Lincoln. “It can be prevented by proper storage and disposal of unneeded or unwanted meds.”

Follow these guidelines from Dr. Gadbois to help prevent accidental poisoning in your home:

  • Read the information. Most medications contain a leaflet that tells you how best to store it and dispose of it.
  • Keep medicine up and out of sight for younger children. Teach your teens how to read drug labels and the importance of only taking medications prescribed to them.
  • Use caution when handling narcotic medications, which can be fatal for both toddlers and teens. Many of these pills can be flushed because they pose too much of a risk in the trash can. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of meds on their website that are safe to flush.

Stephanie Gadbois, MD

Stephanie Gadbois, MD, received her medical degree from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. She also holds a Master of Science in Public Health Tropical Medicine and Parasitology and is fluent in Spanish.