Medication Safety

Medicine is the leading cause of child poisoning. Unintentional medication poisonings and medication safety have been a continuous public health issue for years. Most accidental ingestions and exposures to medication occur to children under 6 years of age; research from Safe Kids Worldwide shows that unauthorized, accidental ingestions of medicine account for more than 90 percent of emergency department (ED) visits for children under the age of 5.

The good news is that over the last 10 years, there have been some promising trends in medication safety among this age group of children. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, the estimated number ED visits for suspected accidental poisonings decreased by one-third.

Unintentional medication exposures resulted in 130 ED visits per day in 2017/2018. 

Safety Tips

  • Keep all medication, vitamins, and supplements out of reach and out of sight.
    • In a Safe Kids national survey, 7 in 10 parents said they keep medicine where their child can still see it.
    • Consider purchasing a medication safety lock bag or box to provide extra security.
  • Put medicine away after every use, even if you need to give another dose in a few hours.
  • Be a model for responsible medicine use.
    • Teach children that medicine should always be given by an adult.
  • Do not refer to medicine as candy, which could encourage children to take medicine on their own.
  • Nearly 30 percent of child poisonings involve a grandparent’s medication
    • The number of grandparents living with their grandchildren increased by 24 percent from 2005 to 2018.
  • Use only the dosing device that comes with liquid medicine, not a kitchen spoon.
    • Read and follow the label. Do not give your child more than one medicine at a time with the same type of active ingredient.
  • When other caregivers are giving your child medicine, give clear instructions about what type of medicine to give, how much to give and when to give it. 
  • Keep visitors’ purses, bags and coats out of the read of children, as it could contain medicine.
  • When taking your child play at a friend’s home, ask that all medications and vitamins are stored safely out of reach and out of sight.
  • Remember to safely dispose of unused or expired medication.
    • Ask your local pharmacy about where to safely dispose of medication.
    • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a “flush list” of drugs that should be flushed down the toilet if they are no longer needed and cannot be immediately taken to a drug take back program, including:
      • Fentanyl, buprenorphine and oxycodone
    • The FDA advises that most medicines not on the flush list can be safely disposed of in the trash at home by mixing medicine with an unappealing substance, such as coffee grounds or cat litter, sealing the mixture in a plastic bag and disposing in the trash at home.
  • Save the Poison Help phone number in your phone: 1-800-222-1222.