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Meds and kids: Better safe than sorry

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

‘Caregiver to poison control: I am not sure how many tablets of my blood pressure medicine my toddler has consumed. What should I do?’

This is a common scenario heard across the world by poison control centers or emergency room providers.

In fact, nearly 60,000 children are seen in ER’s around the country per year for evaluation and treatment for accidental drug poisoning. It results in many children requiring admission, some cared for in the ICU.

Prevention of illness being better than a cure, the aim is to empower the reader. These unfortunate incidents do not need to occur.

The Centers for Disease Control has an “Up and Away” initiative which focuses on preventing accidental poisoning primarily from prescription (or over-the-counter) drugs either meant for the child or another child in the family, or those being consumed by adults.

Keep in mind that toddlers and young children are:

• Curious.

• Anything that looks like candy can (and should) be eaten.

• Out of reach is not enough, since if it is in their sight, they can reach it.

• A single pill meant for an adult is enough to cause adverse reactions in a child.

To avoid poisoning

Some of the recommendations to avoid accidental drug poisoning due to prescription medications include:

• Keeping medications in their child-resistant containers – but keep in mind that these are not childproof, and in any case if the container is not shut property after each time a drug is taken out, it is really is just a container and certainly not childproof.

• If you remove the medications from their original container and keep it in a pillbox, ensure it is child-resistant and closed appropriately.

• Do not leave any medication loose on the table or nightstand even for a few minutes; children are fast, faster than you imagine.

• Keep medications not only out of reach but out of sight – because they will reach it even if you think they cannot. This is especially true now as families meet after a gap of several months and do not realize how quickly the toddler has advanced developmentally.

• Ask for a safe place to keep the mediations or even a safe when visiting other people’s homes that have children to avoid this misadventure.

• Avoid taking medications in front of young children, as they like to imitate adults.

• Don’t accept the help of children to open child-resistant pillboxes or containers.

• Discard all unused medications safely.

• Keep Poison Help Line numbers handy just in case a mishap occurs.

Remember that it is not only prescription medications that can be the cause of a problem, over-the-counter medications and supplements including vitamins can be too. Regard every medication as potentially hazardous.

With the Covid-19 pandemic’s end in sight, and as more families, especially grandparents, get together with their grandchildren, it is likely that in all the excitement, prescription medications are more likely to be available for accidental consumption.

So as the old adage goes: Prevention is better than a cure.

If all these fail, call 911 for a true emergency and Poison Control if the child is stable and even if you are not sure if the child has consumed the medication or not. Remove from the mouth any tablets that might be there and if you need to visit the ER, carry the suspected medication that the child consumed to make it easier for the health care provider to initiate therapy.

Remember that even one pill may be significant enough for a child and in some cases the adverse events can appear many hours later. Better safe than sorry!

Pankaj Vohra is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at UNM. Please send your questions to