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Childhood Poisoning by Medication on the Rise

Study Shows Increase in ER Visits Due to Poisoning From Medicines in Kids Age 5 and Under
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 16, 2011 -- Childhood poisonings by medication are up dramatically, despite repeated messages to adults to keep prescription and over-the-counter medicines out of reach and locked up.

"Overall, the visits to the emergency department for poisoning by medicines [in children age 5 and younger] were up 30%," says G. Randall Bond, MD. Bond is an emergency physician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and medical director of the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.

The increase occurred over an eight-year period, from 2001 to 2008. During that same time, the number of children age 5 years and under in the U.S. went up only 8%, Bond says.

The majority of the accidents involved a child getting into medicines, not a parent or other caretaker giving a child an incorrect dose, Bond tells WebMD.

The study is published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Tracking Childhood Poisonings

The researchers evaluated patient records from the National Poison Data System of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. They looked at the years 2001 to 2008 and focused on children age 5 years and younger.

All the children were evaluated at a health care facility after being unintentionally exposed to over-the-counter or prescription medication. The researchers categorized the doses as those the child took by mistake or an error made by an adult giving the child medicine.

The researchers looked at visits to emergency departments, hospital admissions, injuries, and trends.

They evaluated a total of 453,559 records. In 95% of cases, the child got into the medicine. Most problems occurred after children got into prescription medicines.

Children getting into prescription medicines accounted for more than 248,000 emergency department visits, nearly 42,000 hospital admissions, and more than 18,000 injuries.

Most often, the drug ingestions that caused the most serious illnesses involved opioid painkillers, sedatives, and heart medicines.

Over the eight years, 66 deaths occurred, Bond says. More often, he says, ''the injuries were transient, as in they had a coma and recovered, or they had low blood sugar and recovered."

For most, the poisonings had no long-term ill effects, he says.

Explaining the Increase in Childhood Poisonings

The increase in childhood poisonings by medication are easily explained, Bond says. "More medicines are out there for kids to get in to," he says.

For instance, 50% of adults reported taking at least one prescription medicine in a 1998 survey, and 7% five or more, Bond says, citing other research. By 2006, the same researcher found 55% took at least one prescription medicine, and 11% took five or more.

"These are preventable injuries," Bond says. Parents need to be reminded that medications need to be ''out of sight and locked up."

That means immediately after taking them or giving them to children, he says.

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