Whether you or a family member take medicine prescribed by a physician, or use over-the-counter (OTC) medication or vitamins to maintain your health, you could be putting your child at risk if you don’t keep those medicines secure and out of reach of children.
“Prescription medications, when used as directed, can be safe and effective,” says Lisa Saab, M.D., a Henry Ford pediatrician. “However, when prescription medications are not used correctly, or taken by someone other than the person it was prescribed to, especially children, they can have disastrous results.”
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60,000 children age 18 and younger, visit emergency rooms each year due to unintentional medication poisonings.
“It is extremely important for parents to keep all medications — over-the-counter and prescription — out of reach of children of all ages,” Dr. Saab says.
Small children might be tempted by bright colors or mistake the drugs for candy (or just follow their toddler instincts for putting things in their mouth), so it’s important to put medicine “up and away” — out of reach and sight — every time you use it. Don’t leave it on the counter or by the child’s bedside, even if you’re going to need to give it them again in a few hours.
Also, while a lot bottles or packaging come with child safety caps or locks, don’t take for granted that your child couldn’t open them anyway. Make sure you securely lock the cap every time you use the bottle and store it out of reach or in a secure cabinet.
Getting kids to take medicine can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s important to educate them about medication or vitamin use and avoid using the term “candy” when trying to get a child to take their medication.
“I do not recommend parents trying to get young children to take medication by calling it something else,” Dr. Saab says. “It is better to explain why it is important for them to take their medicine and explain that it is only given by a parent or caregiver and never taken on their own.”
What About Access to Medicine for Older Kids and Teens?
Teens present a different set of issues when it comes to medication safety. Many teens misuse or abuse prescription drugs, which they may have easy access to in the family medicine cabinet. They also may share stolen prescription drugs with friends. Often, using prescription medications as recreational drugs can lead to more risky behaviors and taking illicit drugs. A 2017 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (a part of the National Institutes for Health) found that more than 16 percent of 12 graders reported a misusing prescription drug. The most commonly misused types of prescription drugs are:
- Opioids (like Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine) which are used to relieve pain
- Depressants (like Valium or Xanax) which are used used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep
- Stimulants (like Adderall or Ritalin) which are used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Teens are also increasingly abusing OTC meds, including cold medications and cough syrups, as recreational drugs too.
“It is important to begin conversations with young teens or pre-teens about the dangers of experimentation with drugs, including over-the-counter medications,” Dr. Saab says. “I think this is forgotten or unknown to parents, because of the fact it is available over the counter and may seem so harmless.”
In addition to having ongoing conversations with your teen about drug use, be mindful of where you store all of the medications in your house and keep them secured.
If you suspect your child has swallowed drugs, contact the Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. If there are symptoms of immediate distress, or a parent is unsure of the condition, got directly to the ER or calling 9-1-1.
To find a pediatrician or family medicine provider at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Lisa Saab is a board-certified pediatrician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Ford Road in Dearborn.