Preventing Medication Poisoning in Children

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    by Ann Pudwell, Health Promotions Facilitator, Alberta Health Services

    In 1958, when new parents left Medicine Hat Hospital with their precious packages, they were presented with a publication called ‘Safety, Your Child’s Heritage.’

     An excerpt from that article was about preventing your child from an incidental poisoning. ‘Death lurks under the sink and in low storage closets,’ it read. ‘Keep medicines, ant paste, lye and similar items out of reach.’

    We have made great strides in preventing poisonings attributed to items like household cleaning agents and chemicals. It has always amazed me what children will consume.

    As I teach parents about safety, I discuss with them the dangers of choking and poisoning, and part of the explanation is that children will put anything in their mouths –  absolutely anything – and we don’t always consider that.

    As an example, I use the fact that when my brother was about two years old, he drank bleach. I can’t imagine why anyone would drink bleach, because the smell alone would seem to make it very undesirable. However, we can’t make the mistake of thinking that just because something looks or smells disgusting, youngsters will avoid it. It’s simply not the case, and we need to be mindful of the possibility that everything could end up in a child’s mouth. Inevitably, when I tell parents this, they share their own stories about the things their children ate or put in their mouths (children have even drank the liquid from cans of cigarette butts that were left outdoors!).

    My Mother never thought in her wildest dreams that her child would drink something as awful as bleach. It burned on the way down and on the way back up, requiring some time in hospital and a special diet for a while after. He was the oldest of four in our family, and because of that experience, our mother made sure it never happened to any of the rest of us!

    Not all poisons are marked with skulls and crossbones. The Injury Prevention Centre states now that the leading cause of childhood poisonings in Alberta is improperly-stored medications. In 2014, they report that 1,750 children under 10 years old visited the emergency departments for unintentional poisoning. Medication was involved in 7 out of 10 of these visits. Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause poisoning.

    Drugs that are commonly involved in child poisonings include: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, multivitamins, vitamin D and diphenhydramine (used as an antihistamine or sedative).

    These are very common drugs that most of us have in our homes and use on a regular basis, and it reminds me of a science project that my daughter did one year for school. A display was designed that showed a comparison between candy and medications and how similar they looked. I know a common strategy a lot of people use to remember to take medications is to have them in sight; a pill container on the kitchen table. We think nothing of taking our medications with our meals; but this is very tempting for young children who are watching.

    I have confidence that we will also make a difference and change the statistics on this injury issue. After all, statistics are derived from real people and a statistic could be your child, grandchild or someone you care for.

    National Poison Prevention Week is March 19-25, and this year’s key messages are:

    • Keep all prescription and over-the-counter medications locked up tight, out of sight, and in their original containers. Remember, child resistant caps on medication bottles are not child proof.

    • When taking your medications, do it away from children. Children often copy the actions of their parents or caregivers.

    • Guests, family or friends may bring their own medication into your home. Put purses, backpacks and coats out of children’s reach.

    In case of emergency please have the Poison and Drug information Service (PADIS) number saved in a convenient location. 1-800-332-1414.

    Ann Pudwell is a Health Promotions Facilitator with Alberta Health Services. She can be reached by  e-mail: [email protected].

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