Thursday, March 20, 2008


Children and adults are vulnerable to poisonings, usually involving meds

Last year more than two million poisonings were reported to poison control centers around the country.

Accidental poisoning is the second-leading cause of home-injury death, and the risk is not just in homes with young children. Although children under the age of five have the highest rate of poisonings, adults account for 35% of all poisonings. The most common substances involved are medications.

Young children are naturally curious and often explore their environment by placing things in their mouth. Make-up, household cleaners and medications (including vitamins and herbal products) are common items in all homes that can be dangerous when ingested. Older children who cannot yet read labels will often mistake medicine for candy and bright colored cleaning agents for juice.

If left in an accessible area to little hands, disaster can occur.

Using child-resistant containers and keeping medicines and cleaners locked-up are important steps to take to keep little ones safe.

When struggling to get a young child to take their medicine, never refer to it as “candy”. Young children need to be taught that medicine is important and should only be used when given by an adult.

It also is not enough to just child-proof your own home; neighbors’ and grandparents’ homes, any home were the child spends time, needs to be safe. If you are a woman and keep medication in your purse, be especially cautious around toddlers. They love to search through bags looking for goodies and may find a non-child resistant pill box.

Older adults, especially those taking multiple medications, are also at a high risk for poisoning. Accidently taking the wrong medication, taking someone else’s medication, and taking a medication twice are common reasons for adult poisonings. Multiple distractions, poor lighting and hard to read prescription labels are often the cause.

Many seniors also save unused medications thinking they may be able to use them again in the future. This leads to overflowing medicine cabinets and pill bottle confusion. Not to mention the poisonous drug interactions that can occur when searching for old medications that may not safely mix with new ones you now have.

Using a pill box to keep track of medications, communicating with your doctor and pharmacist about over the counter and herbal medications you use, and properly disposing of unneeded medications are key steps in preventing medication poisonings in adults.

Only take medications in well lit areas and decrease the number of distractions that can occur. Never share your medications with friends; what works for your headache could be deadly for your friend.

Backus Hospital will host a poison prevention seminar in honor of Poison Prevention Week on March 26 at 6 p.m. in the hospital auditorium. “Poison Prevention for the Whole Family” will offer tips for both young and old, the family pet too, as well as suggestions for safe and proper medication disposal. To register, call 823-6374.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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