Accidental Prescription Drug Poisoning of Children on the Rise

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Prescription drug use is on the rise in North America.

An increasing number of adults have five or more prescriptions, and more and more children are being accidentally poisoned by prescription drugs.

A recent Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study showed that between 2001 and 2008, prescription drug poisoning related visits to hospital emergency departments by children aged five and under increased by 28% across the US. In fact, a child is more likely to wind up in an ER because of poisoning than a car accident. While nationwide statistics about child poisonings in Canada are not collected, the trend is probably similar here.

The drugs that are most commonly accidentally taken by young children include those used to treat juvenile diabetes, high cholesterol (statins), pain (opioids), and beta blockers used to treat cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, and migraines. Single dose pills that only have to be taken once a day often contain enough of a drug to kill or make a child seriously ill.

The most serious cases of poisoning usually involve diabetes drugs and opioids such as Oxycodone, sleep aids or sedatives like Valium or Ativan, and beta blockers. It doesn’t help that some medicines are still made to resemble candy. For example, some iron pills look like M&Ms and the heart and high blood pressure medication Verapamil is sugar coated, making them highly attractive to children.

Now, more than ever, vigilance is required around the home when there are children present. Older children who are taking drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity or obesity related diabetes or high blood pressure have to make sure that their medication is secure. Grandparents especially have to be very careful to store their medications out of reach of children. An unzipped purse left on the floor can be a recipe for disaster. Some people put all of their medications for the day in a single container, creating a cocktail that could be deadly for a child if left unattended.

It’s been said a million times, but if you are taking prescription medications, be sure to keep them out of reach of children.

Written by Randy Howden. Visit me on

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