When Children Take Adult Medicines

Advances in medical research are making it possible for people to live longer, more active lives. One of the results of that is that more and more people are having children later in life, or taking a substantive role in their grandchildrens’ lives. However, the medications that make these possible can be dangerous for those children.

In fact, thousands of children are harmed annually by taking prescription medications belonging to the adults in the house, and this number is rising. Over the past decade, prescriptions have increased, meaning more children have these medications in their homes, and curiosity is taking hold of more of them each year. A recent study found that, between 2001 and 2008, prescription poisonings at pediatric emergency rooms rose as much as 36 percent.

This isn’t always an accident. Teenagers, for example, who find Vicodin or other opioid drugs sometimes experiment—nearly one in four teens have, according to a different survey. Often, however, a toddler will discover or seek Mommy’s or Daddy’s pills, such as statins, heart medications called beta blockers, or diabetes medication, and take them like the grow-ups do. Unfortunately, while these medicines are beneficial for those who need them, the same effects can be dangerous to younger or healthier bodies. Moreover, while people for whom medicine was prescribed take only the prescribed dose, curious exploring children, particularly toddlers, are likely to accidentally overdose, a danger that increases if the medicine is packaged in a bottle rather than in single-dose packaging or if pills are bright or sweet.

While it’s generally easy for people who have young children living in their homes to store medicines safely, other people may be tempted to overlook this if they only need to do it occasionally. Grandparents and non-custodial parents, for example, may be used to keeping medications, particularly daily ones, where they are easily accessible, making them also easily accessible for children they are likely to host for extended periods of time. If a child in your care does take medicines that aren’t intended for them, treat it as a poisoning. Call 911 or Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) immediately, and be ready to go to the emergency room, if possible with the medicine container and a best guess as to how much medicine the child took. The more information you can give medical personnel, the faster they will be able to provide proper treatment.

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