The equivalent of four school busloads of kids arrive at U.S. emergency rooms every day because a child or teenager accidentally ingested medicine. That’s more than 59,000 kids a year or one every nine minutes coming to ERs in addition to the one-per-minute calls to poison control centers, according to a report from Safe Kids Worldwide.
Released March 18, the report comes at a time when the presence of medications in the home is at an all-time high. Americans are filling three times as many prescriptions and spending five times as much on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs today than they did in 1980. With more medicine in the home than ever before, more has to be done to protect kids from getting into them, say the report authors.
“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.
The new report analyzed data from poison centers around the country during 2013. Out of the 1.34 million calls involving kids under 19, the research team found that more than 547,000 involved kids getting into medications that were not meant for them, kids who took the wrong medicine, or kids who took too much of the right medicine.
Toddlers were seen most often in the ER – 1- and 2-year-olds made up 70 percent of emergency room visits for medicine poisoning. Findings showed that the top ingested products among young children included diaper rash medicines, ibuprofen, multi-vitamins, and topical anti-fungal preparations.
This always curious group proved to be experts at finding medicines on the ground, in purses and diaper bags, on counters and tables, and in refrigerators. They also retrieve medications from accessible cabinets and those day-by-day medicine containers used by adults to make pill-taking easier.
In addition, the report found that in 48 percent of the cases, the medicine young kids got into belonged to a grandparent and 38 percent belonged to parents. As for those so-called “child-proof” lids, Carr told TODAY they are not so child-proof. “Four out of five [kids] can open one in 10 minutes,” she said.
One surprising finding was the number of calls poison centers received regarding teen medicine poisonings. While 75 percent were about children ages 1 to 4, 4 percent were for kids 10 to 14, and 3 percent were for kids 15 to 19.
For teens, medicines that resulted in serious medical issues included prescription drugs for mental health conditions such as those used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The most commonly reported accidental poisonings among this group resulted from forgetting to take a medicine and then doubling up, taking two medicines with the same ingredient, or taking the wrong medication. OTC medicines account for some 10,000 ER visits a year among teens, according to the report.
What can parents, grandparents and caregivers do to protect their kids from medicine poisonings? Safe Kids Worldwide recommends looking around your home to make sure all medications are out of the reach of small hands. Better yet, place medicines where they can be locked or latched. The organization also recommends providing caregivers with a list of instructions about your child’s medicines and making sure your teenagers know how to take their medicines appropriately.
Carr urged taking “a few moments to save the Poison Help Number into your phone: 1-800-222-1222. It’s free, it’s available 24/7, and it will put you in touch directly with experts who can help you with an emergency or just with a simple question,” she said.