More Americans are taking prescription drugs for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. As use has increased so have emergency room visits for accidental poisonings of children caused by ingesting prescription drugs.
Research recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that calls to poison control centers for pharmaceutical exposures rose 30 percent between 2001 and 2008. Fifty-five percent of the children under age 5 who ingested a prescription drug had gotten into the drugs on their own, not because a parent accidentally gave them too much. Forty percent of cases involved accidental use of over-the-counter products. A small number (5 percent) were caused by errors in medication dosing. Although most kids didn’t get sick, 43 percent ended up in intensive care and there were 66 deaths during the seven-year period.
Why the increase in injuries, hospital admissions and accidental poisonings due to prescription drugs?
Study authors speculate that increased access has contributed to the problem. Hundreds of millions of households have prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet, either because parents have conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure or because teenagers are on medications for ADHD, anxiety and depression at younger ages. Curious younger siblings may be enticed to try the medications not knowing of the threat they pose.
The prescription drugs that have most contributed to the rise in accidental poisonings include:
- Opiates (painkillers like OxyContin)
- Sedatives (sleep aids and muscle relaxants)
- Cardiovascular medicines
While drug companies have reformulated many of these drugs so that users can conveniently take once-daily doses, children who take them are getting a more potent dose of the drug than just a few years ago, explained study authors.
Protecting Children from Prescription Drugs
Growing awareness of teen prescription drug abuse has encouraged many families to safely store or dispose of their unused medications. This study underscores the importance of storing medications where young people can’t get to them, even when their kids are as young as nine months old.
Experts also recommend:
- Storing medications up high and out of sight
- Taking care to put medications away every time they are taken out
- Locking prescription drugs in a medicine cabinet or lockbox
- Disposing of unused and unwanted prescription drugs properly
- Calling poison control at the earliest signs of prescription drug ingestion
These efforts help prevent prescription drug abuse among teens and accidental poisonings among children.
In addition to the efforts of individual families, researchers recommend that pharmaceutical manufactures package prescription drugs in a way that limits the number of pills a child can access at one time. Making it harder to get into the pill bottle should minimize accidental poisonings.