AAP recommends that all medicines, both over the counter and prescriptions, be locked up and away from children and handled with care to prevent accidental ingestions that can be deadly.
Medicines, when you need them, can relieve pain and suffering and save lives. But many common medications and over-the-counter drugs can be deadly in the hands of a toddler, child or teenager.
During Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is teaming up with a New York family to raise awareness about medication safety and share a simple message: Even a single pill can kill.
Adam and MaryBeth Gillan of Rochester, N.Y., were at a dinner party Jan. 5, 2019, with their 9-month-old daughter, Maisie. During the evening, Maisie spent a few minutes crawling on the kitchen floor, where a previous visitor to the house had dropped a prescription methadone pill.
“While we were at the neighbor’s house with Maisie, she was never unsupervised. We put her down for about 5 minutes in the kitchen, and afterward we decided to take her home when she seemed sleepy, unaware of any danger,” said MaryBeth Gillan. “The next morning at 6 a.m. I went into her room to check on her and she was cold. Paramedics arrived quickly but couldn’t revive Maisie.”
“Our lives have been forever impacted by this enormous loss,” Adam Gillan said. “It took weeks to discover that the methadone had come from a careless medication spill at our neighbor’s house. Now we just want to let everyone know what precautions they should be taking when handling medications to protect children from a similar tragedy.”
The Gillans share their story for parents in a new article on HealthyChildren.org. AAP also offers an article by Elizabeth Murray, DO, FAAP, pediatric emergency medicine physician, which includes tips on medication safety in the home.
Every year, more than 50,000 children under age 6 go to the ER because of a medicine-related poisoning.
“Many common medicines, such as opioids, heart medications and even prenatal vitamins can be fatal for toddlers in very small doses—a pill or two,” said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, spokesperson for the AAP.
“Additionally, teenagers can make poor decisions around pills, especially prescription medications. Doctors witness these preventable mistakes all too often in emergency rooms across the country, many times with tragic results. In the same way you protect your child in your vehicle by using car seats and booster seats, you need to protect your child at home by locking up medicines and other common household hazards like cleaning supplies.”
The AAP offers tips on medication safety for parents, grandparents and others who may have a child in their home:
Medication Safety Tips
Store medicine, including over the counter medicines, in their original packaging in locked cabinets or containers, out of sight and reach of children.
Consider purchasing a small safe or lockbox where you can lock up all medications and drugs.
Purchase and keep all medicines in containers with safety caps and keep them out of reach of children. Note that safety caps are designed to be child resistant but are not fully child proof.
Stronger medicines deserve greater respect and care. For many opioids and other powerful painkillers, even a small spill or accidental ingestion can be life threatening.
Safety latches that automatically lock when you close a cabinet door can help keep children away from dangerous products, but they can fail or break. There is no substitute for common sense approaches that prevent children from accessing these hazards.
When dispensing medicine, do it over a bathroom sink and/or away from common areas of your home. If you spill medicine, clean it up immediately.
Never refer to medicine as "candy" or another appealing name. This can create confusion and may entice a child to try other pills, when you’re not watching.
Safely discard of all unused medications, particularly powerful drugs like opioids. Many pharmacies, poison control centers, public safety stations and doctor’s offices will accept old medicines for safe disposal but call first. For more information, visit here.
If your child is unconscious, not breathing, or having convulsions or seizures due to possible poison contact or ingestion, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If your child has come in contact with poison and has mild or no symptoms, call 1-800-222-1222.
Media outlets are encouraged to use these tips with attribution to the AAP. For an interview with Dr. Hoffman, Dr. Murray, or the Gillan family, please contact AAP Public Affairs.
Infographics avavilable on request
Public Service Announcement on “Medication Safety” featuring pediatrician Shelly Flais, MD, FAAP
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.