Medication Safety

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

Overview

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.

Prescription opioids are especially important to store and dispose of safely. Opioid medications, like oxycodone and morphine, are used for pain relief, but they can also affect the pleasure receptors in the brain, which contributes to their addictive qualities. Heroin is an example of an illegal drug that works similarly to opioid pain medications. Because of the high risk of misuse, opioids are especially important to dispose of safely.

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 disposemymeds.com 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.

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.

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Dispose Safely

Medicines are the leading cause of child poisoning. This is why unused opioids and medications should be removed from the home once pain is manageable without prescribed medication. Properly disposing of unused medications can prevent misuse.

Take Back Events

Community medication take back events provide a safe option for disposing of unused opioids and other prescription medications. To find a community take back event or an authorized collector near you visit https://michigan-open.org/safe-opioid-disposal/disposal-map/. Examples of authorized collectors include:

  • Pharmacies
  • Hospitals
  • Police departments

Drug Deactivation Bags

Drug deactivation bags are a safe way to dispose of unused medications. Ask your local hospital or pharmacy where you can get a drug deactivation bag in your area.

As a Last Resort, Household Trash

As a last resort, simply bag up unused medication with an undesirable substance such as: dirt, used coffee grounds or cat litter and throw it away in your household trash.

Please note that your empty prescription bottle can be recycled once you remove or scratch out your name and other information.

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Special Considerations for Opioids

Opioids provide important pain relief when prescriptions are managed by a physician. Opioids work on receptors in the brain and body to reduce feelings of pain, but can also cause euphoria, which makes them more likely to be misused. Misuse is when someone is taking a medication not prescribed for them, taking more than directed or taking for reasons other than pain relief. In the last 20 years, opioid misuse has increased, and it was declared a public health emergency in 2017.

The American Psychiatric Association defines addition as “a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.” Use of opioids can lead to physical dependence in as few as 4 weeks. It can be especially hard to stop using opioids, and withdrawal symptoms can be severe and include anxiety, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and very intense cravings. This is why it is so important to only take medications prescribed for you, and taking them as prescribed. Don’t share your prescription with anyone else. Make sure your medications are stored safely, and don’t leave them where they can be easily found.

Find out more:

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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