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Over-the-Counter or Prescription Medications in the Home? Tips for Caregivers to Keep Kids Safe

Mar 18, 2020
Three bottles of medications

Children less than six years old comprise of nearly half the poisonings reported to poison control centers yearly. According to a recent study published in Journal of Pediatrics, one-third of all unsupervised pediatric exploratory ingestions with solid-dose medications (tablets, capsules, etc.) occurred when they were removed from the original container/packaging and were accessible to a child. Medications largely belonged to parents, followed by grandparents, and other relatives including another child.

More than 50% of cases involving prescription medications were due to an adult removing them from the original packaging, compared to only 20% of over-the counter medications.  Common explanations for transferring to alternative containers included to serve as a reminder to take the medication and convince for traveling. While medications that were not stored in any container were often done so in preparation to the take medication, and accidentally dropping it or leaving it out. 

What does this mean for you as a parent? While pill organizers and travel packs are convenient for adults, removing medications from their original containers may increase the risk of pediatric accidental ingestions. 

Prescription medications and some over-the-counter medications have child-resistant packaging.  Although child resistant packaging is not considered to be child-proof, it is used to reduce the accessibility of the medication to a child. Removing medications from their original container also removes the medication from their child resistant packaging.

All medications should remain in their original child-resistant container. If medications need to be combined or re-located to a pill organizer, ensure that organizer is always out of sight and out of reach of children. If possible, medications should be behind a lock and key. Medications should only be removed from their containers at the time of immediate consumption. Avoid leaving medications unattended in places easily accessible by children, such as counters, table tops, windowsills, and vehicles.

If you have medication storage questions or think your child may have gotten into medications call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222. While on the phone ask for a free magnet with the poison center number and an information packet how to poison proof your home.

Tips for Medication Safety

  • Keep medication up high, out of sight and if possible, locked up.
  • Keep medicines in their original containers, with child resistant tops.
  • Do not leave medicines out on counters, tabletops, windows, or in vehicles.
  • Take medicines out of containers and packaging only at the time for immediate use.
  • Educate visiting family and friends on medication safety and encourage they follow these tips as well.
  • If you have questions call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

Featured Expert

Alexandra Funk
Alexandra Funk, PharmD, DABAT
Central Ohio Poison Center

Alexandra R. Funk, PharmD, DABAT, is a clinical toxicologist and the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center.

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