Pharmaceutical drug poisonings rise in children

Child-safety caps were a great invention. They significantly reduced the number of kids accidentally poisoned by taking all kinds of medicines. The caps worked so well that adults complained the bottles were hard to open.

But prescription dispensing has changed, and there are indications that children are finding ways to ingest drugs that are not meant for them. According to a study published Friday, the rate of child accidental poisonings with prescription drugs rose dramatically in the United States in the last decade.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center looked at a database of more than half a million children 5 or younger who had visited an emergency room due to possible poisoning by medication. They found a 22% increase in accidental drug exposures from 2001 to 2008 even though the population of children only increased by 8% during the study period. Such poisonings had fallen from 1990 to 2000.

Prescription drugs accounted for more than half of the exposures, especially oxycodone, morphine and codeine.


“The problem of pediatric poisoning in the U.S. is getting worse, not better,” said Dr. Randall Bond, the lead author of the study. “Effective efforts at ‘poison proofing’ may have plateaued or declined.”

It’s not clear why poisoning rates are up. It could be that there are simply more drugs in people’s homes these days. The rates of prescription pain medications, for example, have increased.

The authors suggested that medical bottles and packages may need to be redesigned to limit how fast a child can consume medication. Meanwhile, parents and guardians should store drugs in locked cabinets and rid the home of unused medications.

The study is slated to appear in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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