Medications: The Leading Cause of Accidental Poisoning Deaths in Children

New Research Reveals Medications Are the Leading Cause of Accidental Poisoning Deaths Among Children Today 
“Safe Storage, Safe Dosing” Campaign to Focus on Medication Safety 

Washington, DC – Today Safe Kids Worldwide released a new research report that found while the death rate among children from poisoning has been cut in half since the late 1970s, the percentage of all child poisoning deaths due to medications has nearly doubled, from 36 percent to 64 percent.

Safe Storage, Safe Dosing, Safe Kids:  A Report to the Nation on Safe Medication examines trends in morbidity and mortality of medication poisoning among children ages 14 and under. The report underscores the challenge of medication-related poisoning among children and offers solutions that will reverse the trends. Safe Kids also proposes specific roles that parents and other caregivers, industry, governments, and the medical community can play in improving medication safety through safe storage and safe dosing.

“About 165 kids -- or roughly four school busloads of children -- are seen in emergency rooms for medication-related treatment every day in the U.S.,” said Kate Carr, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. “Every one of those trips was preventable. We can and must do better.”

Among young children, 95 percent of medication-related poisoning visits to emergency departments are caused by a child ingesting medication while unsupervised and approximately five percent are due to dosing errors made by caregivers.“Ultimately, safe storage and safe dosing mean safe kids,” said Carr.“ Together with our partners, Safe Kids Worldwide is dedicated to reducing unintentional medication ingestions and medication dosing errors in children, as well as strengthening the poison control center infrastructure in case these poisonings still occur.”

The report launches an effort by Safe Kids to help prevent unintentional medication exposures, injuries and deaths in children. At both the national level and through its powerful of 600 coalitions and chapters, Safe Kids will educate parents, grandparents and caregivers about the behavioral changes they need to make related to safe medication storage and dosing.This public education will be accomplished through a strategy involving community events, traditional and social media outreach, and full partnership in the Up and Away and Out of Sight educational program led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Did you know?
  • Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning today. 
  • Each year, more than 500,000 children under the age of five experience a potential poisoning related to medications.
  • More than 60,000 children are treated in emergency departments due to accidental unsupervised ingestions each year. 
  • Currently, more children are brought to emergency departments for medication poisonings than for motor vehicle occupant injuries.
  • Among young children, one of every 150 two-year-olds is being seen in the emergency department for medication-related poisoning.
  • From 1979 to 2006, the poisoning death rate was cut in half, declining from 0.35 to 0.17 per 100,000 children. Yet, among all child poisoning deaths the number attributable to medications increased from 36 percent to 64 percent. 

The report offers several reasons for the medication-poisoning: more medications than ever are in the home, especially prescription pain medication; the pace of today’s lifestyle may prevent caregivers from immediately putting medicines away in a high, out of sight and locked location after every use; a rise in multigenerational households in which children may now have greater access to grandparents’ medications; working and single parents relying on multiple are givers, who may not coordinate closely on the timing of children’s dosages; and formulation of children’s medications that are designed to taste good but may entice children to take them when unsupervised. The report also urges government to enhance the structure and stabilize funding for poison control centers.
  • Always put medicines and vitamins away after every use. Never leave them on the counter between dosings. Don’t be tempted to “keep them handy” in a purse, backpack, or briefcase, or in an unlocked cabinet or a drawer within a child’s reach.  
  • Always read and follow label instructions when giving medicines to children.
  • Only use the dosing device that comes with the medication.Never use a household utensil, such as a teaspoon or tablespoon, to measure medication. 
  • Up to 20 percent of pediatric poisonings involve a grandparent’s medication.Make sure that all medications in the child’s environment are stored out of reach and out of sight. 
  • Program the nationwide poison control center number (800.222.1222) into your phones.