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Accidental Child Poisonings Lower, But Still Alarming

What could be more heartbreaking than to lose a child, especially to a preventable accident? Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach would like to call your attention to a report released this month by the non-profit organization Safe Kids Worldwide, which noted that in 2017 nearly 52,000 children in the United States under the age of six were treated in an emergency room for medicine poisoning. Of those cases, 84 percent were in children between one and three years of age.

Good and bad news

The study revealed the good news that between 2010 and 2016, this type of poisoning in young children decreased by 32 percent, and the number of calls to poison control centers fell by 20 percent over the period. This was despite the fact that sales of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in the U.S. increased by 22 percent.

However, researchers noted that accidental poisonings are still continuing at an alarming rate: an average of 142 young children per day, or one child every 10 minutes. Of these, nearly 9,000 children had to be admitted to the hospital, and 20 of them died. And while the rate of fatal non-drug poisonings decreased by 46 percent between 2000 and 2016, the rate of fatal drug poisonings increased by 10 percent during the same period. They also found that between 2015 and 2017 children under age six were 1.7 times more likely to die from a drug poisoning than a non-drug poisoning.

Finding the reasons

An unusual feature of this particular study was that the authors interviewed parents to discern the reasons behind their results. The researchers conducted a series of in-depth interviews with 42 parents from all demographic groups: urban, suburban, and rural; as well as a mix of races and ethnic groups, ages, education levels, and incomes.

They concluded that, in general, parents underestimated their child’s ability to get into dangerous situations.

“This sense of ‘knowing’ leads parents to think they can predict their child’s skill level, and they do so successfully, until their child does the unexpected,” the report’s authors wrote. “This sense of surprise over a child getting into something is well-documented. When a child goes to the ER after getting into medicine, parents often say that they only turned their back for a minute and they were surprised to learn their child could access off-limit items such as medicine.”

Those interviewed also shared that being a parent involves so many differing concerns that they didn’t want to worry about something ahead of time. The parents felt they’d know when it was time to start child-proofing for drugs in the home. “However,” the authors caution, “when it comes to medicine safety, waiting until a child surprises you may be waiting too long.”

Finally, the researchers found a discrepancy in where parents say they “store” medicines versus where they “keep” it. That is, they “stored” infrequently used drugs up and away in cabinets, but more frequently used medicines were “kept” closer at hand: in purses or diaper bags, on nightstands, or on counters. This widespread practice makes it easy to lose track of where all the potentially dangerous medicines are in the house.

What you can do

Even if you think you’ve taken every precaution to ensure your child’s safety, please review the following checklist to be sure.

  • Keep medicine and vitamins not only out of children’s reach but out of sight, even medicines you take every day. Keep all bags or briefcases that may contain medications on high shelves or hang them on hooks where your child can’t reach them.
  • Put medicines up and away after each use. And be sure to include such items as eye drops, hand sanitizer, and diaper rash remedies when you’re child-proofing your home.
  • Make sure the safety cap on medicine bottles is locked; that is, when you hear the “click” or you can’t turn it any more.
  • Teach your children that medicine is only to be given to them by a parent or caretaker, and that they should never take it themselves. And never refer to it as “candy” in an attempt to get them to take it.
  • Remind guests to keep coats, purses, and bags containing medicine up and away from children in the home.
  • Children can surprise you at any age, so make sure to keep medicine safety on your child-proofing checklist.
  • Save the Poison Help number in your phone and post it visibly at home: 1-800-222-1222.

And please talk to us if you have any concerns about storing medication safely. We can provide additional advice specifically tailored to you and your child.

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