By Dr. Mercola
The US Poison Control Center receives nearly 500,000 calls per year related to young children accidently getting into medicine. This works out to one call every minute of every day.
In 2012, 64,000 kids were treated in emergency rooms for medicine poisoning; that's one child every eight minutes, according to a new report from Safe Kids.1 The report, which is based on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Poison Control Centers, sheds light on this entirely preventable problem, including where children are most likely to be exposed to potentially deadly medicines.
Parents' and Grandparents' Medications Cause Most Child Drug Poisonings
In three out of four cases of child drug poisonings, the medication belonged to a parent (39 percent of cases) or grandparent (38 percent of cases). The fact that grandparents' medication represents this much of a poisoning threat is due to the changing nature of typical households in the US.
There's been a 23 percent increase in the number of grandparents living with their grandchildren since 2005, and one in eight grandparents provide regular care for their grandchildren.
Considering that older adults are among the most heavily medicated populations, with the average adult aged 65 and older taking 28 prescriptions per year,2 this factor alone significantly increases children's risk of accidental drug poisoning.
The Safe Kids' report even revealed that 74 percent of grandparents said they take a prescription medicine every day, which means "kids are around more medicine than ever before." While both parents and grandparents acknowledged that the safest place to keep medications is "up and away" from children, many were making exceptions that would put kids at risk.
Many Grandparents Worried More About Electrical Outlets Than Drugs
When asked what grandparents worried over in terms of keeping kids safe, more identified electrical outlets than medications. Yet, 36 times more children visit emergency rooms due to medication poisoning than electrocution.3
The fact is, medication usage is so common that many become complacent, neglecting to regard their pills as potential killers. Adding to the problem, many seniors take medications multiple times a day and purposely keep them in easy-to-access, prominent locations so they don't forget a dose. The report revealed that among grandparents who take care of their grandkids every day:
- 28 percent keep their medicines in easy-open containers or bottles without a child-resistant cap
- 42 percent of those who use easy-open containers also keep their medicine on a bathroom or kitchen sink, counter, table, or shelf
- 12 percent keep prescription medications on a nightstand or dresser
A young child can grab a pill off a counter, table, or the floor and swallow it in the blink of an eye. Tragically, that is often all it takes to cause life-threatening, and sometimes fatal, reactions in their small bodies.
It May Take Only One Pill to Kill a Small Child
Deaths from prescription drug overdoses have been called the "silent epidemic" for years, and now, with one American dying every 19 minutes from an accidental prescription drug overdose,4 it's being described as "the biggest man-made epidemic in the US."5
If prescription drugs are this deadly in adults, imagine, then, the toll they can take if they fall into the hands of children. In many cases, just one pill – or less – can cause permanent or life-threatening damage in a small child. The following seven medications are examples:
Heart Pills -- In children, they can cause dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate, and even lead to shock. Muscle Rubs -- Camphor is especially dangerous because ingesting it works so quickly; symptoms occur within 10-20 minutes, and often children can go into seizures without any warning. Prescription Pain Medications -- For an infant, even half a tablet of hydrocodone can be lethal. Aspirin and Oil of Wintergreen -- Oil of wintergreen is particularly hazardous because its pleasant smell tempts toddlers to ingest it, but one teaspoon of oil of wintergreen is the equivalent of nearly 90 baby aspirins -- a life-threatening dose for a toddler or child. Antidepressants -- After pain medications, antidepressants are the second highest cause of accidental death from poisoning in children younger than six. Blood Pressure Patches, Eye Drops, and Nasal Sprays -- These medications, designed to be absorbed over time through your skin, can lead to serious consequences when ingested by a toddler. As little as 6 ml can lead to a coma. Diabetes Drugs -- As these medications are more commonly prescribed, the incidence of pediatric poisonings has also increased.
Signs Your Child May Have Ingested a Medication
If you see your child ingest a pill or medication of any kind, don't wait to take action. Your child may appear fine at first, but deadly side effects can appear hours later when it's too late. If you're in the US, call 911 or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you even suspect your child has eaten an adult (or unknown) medication.
If you're in another country, contact emergency help immediately. Likewise, if your child is displaying any of the poisoning symptoms below, you should call for help immediately.
Seizures Low blood pressure or heart rate Delirium Unusual sleepiness Lethargy Nausea or vomiting Agitation Coma
Remember that preventing medication poisoning in children is often as simple as keeping these drugs safely out of children's reach at all times. Safe Kids recommends the following common sense precautions:
- Keep all medicine (including children's medicine) up and away when young children are around, even medicine you take every day.
- Be alert to potential hazards of medicine stored in other locations, like pills in purses, vitamins on counters, and medicine on nightstands.
- Even if you are tempted to keep it handy in between doses, put medicine out of reach after every use.
- Choose child-resistant caps for medicine bottles, if you're able to. If pill boxes or non-child resistant caps are the only option, it's even more important to store these containers up high and out of sight when caring for kids.
- If you live in the US, program the US Poison Help Number (1-800-222-1222) into your phones.
Reducing Your Reliance on Medications Sets a Positive Example for Kids
There are clearly some cases where medications are useful and even lifesaving. I am not opposed to medication – provided it is used correctly and only when necessary. And that latter point is key. Medications are often promoted as necessary when they actually aren't. So many adults are taking prescription and over-the-counter drugs as a matter of course, and aside from the risks of accidental poisoning, kids grow up believing that this is normal. We're now at a point where one in four teens has misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, a 33 percent increase in the last five years.6
Many teens and their parents believe prescription drugs are "safer" than illegal street drugs, when in reality they are just as deadly – and often more so. Prescription drugs, often taken from a parent's medicine cabinet, are now a preferred way for teens to get high, but despite this growing reality, 86 percent of teens surveyed said their parents had not talked to them about the risks of abusing prescription drugs.7
This again stems back to the fact that kids, and often their parents, are of the mindset that medications are generally safe. But as stated in the documentary Pill Poppers: "The difference between a drug and a poison is basically the dose." If you are taking a drug for a medically necessary reason, then by all means keeping it safely out of reach of your children is essential. But at the foundational level, reducing your reliance on drugs in the first place is going to benefit yourself and your kids infinitely more.
How to Break Free of the Drug Paradigm
You've probably heard the advice that eating healthier, exercising, and relieving your stress – all facets of a healthy lifestyle – can help you to prevent and even treat diseases. But perhaps you haven't really taken it to heart. The problem is that this knowledge doesn't always translate into actions, and rather than starting an exercise program or drinking a freshly prepared green vegetable juice, many visit their physicians and receive a prescription for medication.
Even many physicians neglect to tell their patients about the simple and, oftentimes, free changes they can make to dramatically improve their health, simply because they have been brainwashed by the conventional system and are convinced that drugs are part of the, if not the sole, answer for virtually any health condition. Examples of health problems that typically don't require drug intervention include short-term conditions like colds and flu, headaches and minor aches, and pains to chronic conditions like:
This is why some of the most important common-sense questions you need to ask before you take any drug (or give one to your child) include:
- Do I really need it?
- What are the alternatives? (lifestyle-based or otherwise)
- Is it prescribed appropriately, or is it being prescribed for an off-label use? (the latter is particularly common in children)
- What are the side effects? (Both common and uncommon side effects)
- Is it addictive and is it known to interact with any other drugs, supplements, or foods that I'm taking?
Viewing drugs as a last resort rather than a first-line defense will go a long way toward keeping you healthy, as will embracing positive lifestyle choices. An excellent starting point is my free nutrition plan, which virtually anyone can follow starting right now. As mentioned, please do keep any and all medications out of reach of your children. But also, give careful consideration to which medications you have in your house, and whether or not they are truly medically necessary.