According to a new report issued by Safe Kids Worldwide, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injuries, almost 60,000 U.S. children are accidently poisoned by medicines each year.
That's the equivalent of four busloads of children -- or one every nine minutes -- arriving at emergency departments every day because of medicine-related poisoning, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.
And nearly every minute each day a poison control center receives a call about a child who got into medicines, the report notes.
"We want parents and caregivers to remember that the first line of defense in preventing medicine poisoning is the family," Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, said in a news release from the group.
Since 1980, the amount of prescriptions filled has increased three-fold and consumers spend five times as much for over-the-counter drugs. Many families have numerous prescriptions in the home and Carr says parents and other adults need to be vigilant in protecting children from medication poisoning.
Safe Kids Worldwide has been instrumental in getting the word out about medication safety providing research, grants and media promotion. Carr says the efforts are paying off.
"Since Safe Kids and industry and government partners started getting the word out to parents about the importance of keeping kids safe around medicine, the number of ER visits has steadily declined. But there are still too many kids getting into medicine, so education needs to continue to be a priority for all," she added.
As you might suspect, curious toddlers are at the greatest risk for medicine poisoning. Kids aged 1 to 2 years account for 70 percent of ER visits for medicine poisoning, the report said. Parents and caregivers of toddlers need to be sure to store medicine where toddlers cannot reach them, Carr said.
Since medicines are kept in all sorts of places, sometimes they are left in spots that a child can easily access such as in purses, on tables and counters, in refrigerators, daily medicine boxes and in accessible cabinets.
These days, many children are being raised or cared for by grandparents. The report suggests, that grandparents may need safety reminders. In an analysis of ER data on children poisoned by medicines, the drugs belonged to grandparents in 48 percent of cases and to parents in 38 percent of cases.
"Look around your home, and in your purses, to make sure all medicine is out of reach of children," Carr explained.
The Safe Kids Worldwide website offers these tips for protecting children from accidental medicine poisoning:
· Put all medicine up and away and out of sight. In 86% of emergency department visits for medicine poisoning, the child got into medicine belonging to a parent or grandparent.
· Consider places where kids get into medicine. Kids get into medication in all sorts of places, like in purses and nightstands. Place purses and bags in high locations, and avoid leaving medicine on a nightstand or dresser. In 2 out of 3 emergency room visits for medicine poisoning, the medicine was left within reach of a child.
· Consider products you might not think about as medicine. Health products such as vitamins, diaper rash creams, eye drops and even hand sanitizer can be harmful if kids get into them. Store these items up, away and out of sight, just as you would traditional medicine.
· Only use the dosing device that comes with the medicine. Kitchen spoons aren’t all the same, and a teaspoon or tablespoon used for cooking won’t measure the same amount of medicine as a dosing device.
· Write clear instructions for caregivers about your child’s medicine. When other caregivers are giving your child medicine, they need to know what medicine to give, how much to give and when to give it. Using a medicine schedule can help with communication between caregivers.
· Save the Poison Help line in your phone: 1-800-222-1222. Put the toll-free number for the Poison Control Center into your home and cell phones. You can also put the number on your refrigerator or another place in your home where babysitters and caregivers can see it. And remember, the Poison Help line is not just for emergencies, you can call with questions about how to take or give medicine.