Medication Safety Tips

Parent fastening child safety lock on cabinet
Child looking at medications that are on a high shelf out of reach
Parent giving child medicine from proper measuring cup


Every year, more than a million kids ingest something they shouldn’t. Knowing what those things are, where they can be found, and how to store them are important steps in preventing unintentional poisonings. Thankfully, ingestions of household cleaners and traditional poisons have decreased by more than half since the 1970’s, but medication poisonings continue to increase. In 2013, one child every 8 minutes went to the hospital to be treated for a medication ingestion. Only 6% of those medications were found in cupboards and medicine cabinets. The rest were taken from purses, pill boxes, or found on the ground. Keeping medicines in the original containers, up and away from curious hands is the best way to prevent accidental ingestions.

When you don’t need a medication anymore, or it is expired, be sure to dispose of it safely. Holding onto medications you don’t use only give more opportunity for them to be misused. Find a Medication Take Back event in your area, or go to to find a pharmacy that accepts them.

Giving Medicine to Children

The Right Dose

Proper dosing is important, particularly for young children. Always use the dosing device that comes with the medicine. If the medicine does not come with a dosing device, ask your doctor or pharmacist for one that should be used. Never use household spoons, such as kitchen tablespoons or teaspoons to measure medicine, as they will not measure the same as the dosing device.

Take the time to read the label and follow the directions. Even if you have used the medicine before, sometimes the directions change about how much medicine to give. Additionally, if your child seems really sick, do not give more medicine than what the label says. This can cause harm.

Check the active ingredients listed on the label. Make sure you don’t give your child more than one medicine with the same active ingredient, because it puts your child at risk for an overdose. If your child has any of the following symptoms, they may be taking the wrong dose.

Call your healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Intoxicated behavior - confusion, slurred speech, stumbling.
  • Feeling dizzy or faint.
  • Feeling or acting very drowsy or groggy, or nodding off to sleep.
  • Unusual snoring, gasping, or snorting during sleep.
  • Difficulty waking-up from sleep and becoming alert or staying awake.

If you can’t reach your doctor call the National Poison Center Help Line at (800) 222-1222. Save this number as a contact in your mobile phone.

The Right Time

Some medications must be administered only at very specific times of the day. For example, some medications must be given before meals, one hour after meals or at bedtime in order to work best. It is very important for medication to be given at the time of day that is written on the medication order. If no specific time is written on the medication order, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the best time of day to give the medication.

You may wish to keep a daily medication log or schedule to mark the days and times during which your child’s medicine must be taken. This can also help you to keep track of each time you take or give medicine. You may use the following log to help you get started:

Educating Children and Caregivers

Never tell your child that medicine is candy. Consider other ways of making medicine more palatable for your child, or easier to take down. For example, you can give your child a popsicle to numb their taste buds (see resources below to learn more). Ask your child’s doctor or pharmacist before mixing medication with food or liquid.

Provide caregivers with clear instructions on your child's medication. It is important for caregivers to know which medications to give, how much should be given, and when it should be administered. (Safe Kids Worldwide)

Always make sure an adult is the one who is administering a child’s medicine. In addition, do not give children medicine that was made for adults, and never give them medicine that was prescribed to someone else.

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Storing Medicine

Keep All Medicines Up and Away

Keep all medicine and vitamins out of reach and out of children’s sight. Check all the places where children are likely to get into medicine, like purses and nightstands. Makes sure that purses and bags are kept in high locations, and avoid leaving medications on a nightstand or dresser. If you have a guest in your home offer to place purses, bags and coats in a secure location away from a curious child's reach.

It is common for most parents to store medicine up and away - or at least what they consider to be medicine. Most may not think about products like diaper rash remedies, vitamins or eye drops as medicine, but these products actually are medicine and need to be stored in a safe location. (Safe Kids Worldwide)

Secure Your Medicines

Make sure to close your medicine caps tightly after every use, and keep them in a cool, dry place. Ask your pharmacist if child-resistant caps for medicine bottles are available. It is even more important to store containers up high and out of sight when caring for kids if pill boxes or non-child resistant caps are the only options.

Remember: child-resistant does not mean childproof, and some children will still be able to get into medicine given enough time and persistence (Safe Kids Worldwide).

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Medication Disposal Options

It is important to remove expired, unwanted, or unused medicines from the home as quickly as possible to help reduce the chance that others may accidentally take or intentionally misuse the unneeded medicine.

“Take-Back” Events

The safest way to dispose of old medications is to take them to an authorized take-back program or collection site in your area. This includes prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in pills, liquids, drops, patches, creams, and inhalers.

What are Take-Back programs?

  • Several local police departments serve as collection points for citizens to safely dispose of their old medications.
  • In Michigan all State Police posts now serve as collection sites for prescription drugs (including opioids and other controlled substances).
  • Certain retail and hospital pharmacies are also authorized to offer this service.
  • Special take-back events are scheduled in many communities.

Where can I find a Take-Back event near me?

Call ahead and check with each location before bringing medications as many programs have different rules and steps on what they take back. You may also wish to review the following Take Back Event guide from Michigan OPEN.

Household Trash

If medicine take-back programs are not available in your area, and the medicine does not appear on the “FDA Flush List” (see below), check to see if the label has specific disposal instructions. If not, follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash.

  1. Mix medicine (do not crush tablets or capsules) with a bad-tasting substance such as dirt, kitty litter or used coffee grounds
  2. Placed the mixture in a sealed bag or container
  3. Throw the sealed mixture in household trash
  4. Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label and dispose of the medicine container

FDA Flush List

A small number of medicines, such as opioid pain medications and a few others, may be especially harmful if they are used by someone other than the person for whom the medicine was prescribed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of such medications that are safe to flush down the toilet. Find the most up-to-date list▸

Learn more ▸

Home Disposal Kits

Home disposal kits, or drug deactivation pouches, are capable of safely disposing unused prescription medications. Individuals seeking home drug disposal systems may inquire about them at their local pharmacy.

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Alternative Pain Management Strategies

Pain is best treated using a variety of non-drug treatments along with medication. There are a variety of ways that parents or guardians can help keep their child’s pain under control besides taking medicine. Below are just a few ways you can treat pain in children:

  • The use of cold, heat, massage, or other tactile methods.
  • Cuddle, hold, rock, and hug your child.
  • Interactive toys, blowing bubbles, singing or music, deep breathing, storytelling, video games, computer activities and TV are useful distractions..
  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy

Child Life Specialists can help you and your child learn more about relaxation methods. Visit their website to learn more about helping your child cope with pain ▸

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