Accidental Drug Overdoses on the Rise Among Kids

Simple Steps Can Help Prevent the More Than 60,000 Drug Overdoses in Children Each Year

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 13, 2011

Dec. 13, 2011 -- Childproof drug packaging isn’t enough to protect children from the rising number of accidental drug overdoses at home, according to the CDC.

Researchers say more than 60,000 young children in the U.S. are treated in emergency rooms each year for accidental overdoses because they got into medicines when their parent or caregiver wasn’t looking.

Those risks may increase during the holidays when visitors leave coats, purses, or suitcases with medications where young children can reach them.

"Parents may not be aware of the danger posed by leaving medications where young children can reach them. In recent years, the number of accidental overdoses in young children has increased by 20%," Dan Budnitz, MD, MPH, director of the CDC's Medication Safety Program, says in a news release.

Each year, one in every 150 2-year-olds is treated in an emergency room for an unintentional drug overdose, usually after finding and eating or drinking medications without adult supervision.

Keep Drugs Up and Away

To combat the problem, the CDC and a coalition of health partners are launching a new “Up and Away and Out of Sight” campaign to encourage parents to protect children from accidental drug overdoses.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has required most medications to have child-resistant packaging, an improvement that has saved hundreds of children’s lives. But that may not be enough.

"Even with improvements to packaging, no medication package can be 100% childproof," Richard Dart, MD, PhD, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, says in the release. "Poison centers receive calls every day about young children getting into medicines without adult supervision; that's why we encourage all parents and caregivers to follow these simple steps to ensure their child's safety."

Those steps include:

  • Put all medications and vitamins in a place children can’t reach.
  • Put medicines and vitamins away every time you use them. Never leave them out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child’s bedside, even if you have to give the medicine again in a few hours.
  • Listen for the click to make sure the safety cap on medicines is locked.
  • Teach children about medicine safety. Never tell children that medicine is candy to get them to take it.
  • Tell guests about medicine safety. Ask house guests and visitors to keep purses, bags, and coats that have medicines in them up and away and out of sight when they are visiting.
  • Be prepared in case of emergency. Program the poison control phone number into home and cell phones (800-222-1222).