Thousands of Kids Poisoned by Meds Each Year Because of This Common Mistake

Liz Alterman

kids take medicine
Maria Symchych/Shutterstock

Busy parents and caregivers know it's often all too easy to leave items where they shouldn't because they're rushing or pressed for time. But when it comes to medication, it's worth taking a long look at how and where you're storing your pills and liquids. A new report by Safe Kids Worldwide discovered that 60,000 young children seek treatment at the hospital each year because they've taken medication that isn't meant for them. 

Sometimes when your kids are sick, your first thought is to make them comfortable as quickly as possible. After giving them a dose of medicine, you usher them back to bed, and you might accidentally leave that bottle of pain reliever or fever reducer within reach. Other times, it's just more convenient to leave medications -- especially those used daily -- on a countertop. But these seemingly harmless practices pose a serious risk to children. 

According to a report Safe Kids Worldwide issued this month, 9 out of 10 parents agreed medications should be stored "out of sight and up high" following every use, yet 7 out of 10 parents admitted to keeping medicine within a child's sight on a shelf located at or above counter height.  

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Similarly, while 9 out of 10 parents believe medications should be kept in their original containers, more than 1 in 3 said that someone within the household removes those pills and places them in a daily organizer or baggie, which kids could easily access if it isn't kept out of sight and reach. 

According to the report, 440,000 poison control center calls were received in 2015 because children accidentally got into medicine.

Dr. Rutherfoord Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center, explained to NBC News exactly how that can happen.

"Kids develop rapidly," Rose told NBC. "They want to explore their environment. At certain ages they have a lot of hand-to-mouth activity, and so it's very common for them to explore their environment and then try to taste what they find."

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As the report acknowledges, we might have the best intentions, but because we're distracted or looking for convenience, we often take shortcuts that could have dire consequences. In other words, we might know the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean we're always doing it.

To protect kids from accidental overdoses, Safe Kids recommends the following safety guidelines:

Store all prescription and OTC medicines, vitamins, and even supplements up and away and out of sight and reach every time.

Keep medicine in its original child-resistant packaging.

Practice safe storage of medicine from the moment your first child is born. 

Keep the Poison Control help number -- 1-800-222-1222 -- in your phone and post it visibly within your home where you and caregivers can find it easily. 

Rather than keeping meds handy, try using safe reminder tools such as:

  • set an alarm on your watch or phone.
  • write a Post-it note and place it where you'll see it often.
  • combine taking your meds with another daily activity like brushing your teeth.
  • use a schedule to ensure you're taking the right amount at the right time.

It's always worth taking those extra seconds or putting safeguards in place if it means protecting of our kids. 

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health & safety, drugs & alcohol, kid health