Parents know one thing about babies and toddlers: kids get into everything — and we mean everything.
Sometimes, however, the things they get their little hands on can be dangerous — especially when it’s medication.
According to the sixth annual report on safe medicine storage by Safe Kids Worldwide, nearly 60,000 young children are rushed to emergency departments every year after getting into medication that isn’t prescribed to them. That’s 7,000 fewer than what was reported in 2013.
The report is based on a survey of 2,000 people with children under six years of age.
“We still continue to see statistics that are unacceptable,” says Morag Mackay, director of research at Safe Kids Worldwide. “There’s the need to continually provide this education and try and understand why these events are still occurring.”
While nine out of 10 parents agree that it’s important to keep all medications out of sight and up high after every use, seven in 10 parents still admit to storing meds within a child’s sight, the survey found.
This signals a disconnect between what parents know and what they’re actually practicing, Mackay points out. There could be a number of reasons as to why that is, she says.
One reason could be because parents tend to leave everyday medications out as a reminder to take them. In fact, four in 10 parents say that it’s okay to keep medicine they or their children take every day on the kitchen counter or another visible location so it is readily at hand.
“When parents make those exceptions we see that those situations [can] result in a child being poisoned by a medicine,” Mackay says. “There are safe tools to help people remember to take or give medicine, instead of keeping them in sight or reach of kids. Some people put an alarm on their smartphones, or stick a Post-It note somewhere obvious.”
Parents’ busy schedules are often another culprit — they might just forget to put medicines away.
For Mackay, the most surprising finding of the report was that three out of five parents surveyed continue to be unclear about what “child-resistant packaging” actually means.
“Parents felt that they could store [a medicine with] child-resistant packaging somewhere visible and handy — as in within reach, in sight of a child — because of the ‘child-resistant’ labelling because they thought the kid wouldn’t get into it,” Mackay says. “But we know that ‘child-resistant’ only means that it’s harder for most children to open it. The standard is that it’s only supposed to make it harder for kids to open; they’re not child-proof. And parents seem to misunderstand that.”
As Safe Kids Worldwide’s research shows, in about half of poisoning cases involving over-the-counter drugs, the medication was accessed by children using a chair, toy, or other device to reach the medication.
So what are kids accidentally ingesting? The report lists the following:
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medicines
- Health products like vitamins and eye drops
- Baby care products like diaper-rash cream
And while the number of reported cases has been declining over the years, Mackay says there’s still a lot of work to do to get more parents practicing the recommended guidelines regularly.
How should medicine be properly stored around kids? Up, away, and out of sight every time, Mackay says.
Mackay also advises parents to keep the number of their local poison control centres on hand or in their phone contacts, in case of emergency.
According to a 2012 report by the Canadian Pediatric Society on child and youth injury prevention, the leading cause of unintentional injury hospitalizations between 2008 and 2009 for children aged one to four was poisoning (15 per cent).
The Public Health Agency of Canada also estimates that there’s an average of three deaths a year in Canada among kids under 14 years of age from unintentional poisoning. Another 900 are hospitalized with serious injuries.
For more information on how to contact your local poison control centre, visit the Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres.
Graphics by Janet Cordahi