Adult prescriptions in homes pose poison risk to kids, study finds
As more and more adults are prescribed medications for conditions from high blood pressure to diabetes to chronic pain, new research shows a correlated increase in medication poisonings in children and teens.
According to a study published online by the medical journal Pediatrics, more than 70,000 children are brought to emergency departments throughout the U.S. annually for “unintentional medication exposures and poisonings.” Of these, the report states that at least 12 percent are hospitalized. Between 2001 and 2008, emergency department visits for prescription drug poisoning in those under 18 increased by 30 percent, while the rate of hospitalization increased by 36 percent.
Children aged 5 years and younger were shown to be at a particular risk in their own homes. The four classes of prescription drugs included in the study were those determined to be most commonly prescribed to adults:
- Opioids, or prescription-strength painkillers (11.4 percent of all prescriptions)
- Antihyperlipidemics, or lipid-lowering medications for cholesterol (6.2 percent of all prescriptions)
- Diabetes medications (4.2 percent of all prescriptions)
- Beta-blockers for the treatment of high blood pressure (4 percent of all medications)
“We’ve definitely seen a rise in adolescents and pre-teens coming in due to ingestion of narcotics and opioids,” says Dr. Patricia Lee, chair of emergency medicine at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “The drugs are often unintentionally accessible to children as parents try to keep them handy.”
Dr. Lee said parents are often not aware of the danger prescription drugs pose to their children, who may see the brightly colored and flavor-coated pills as candy.
“Often, the prescriptions aren’t locked up and kept out of the reach of the children,” she said. “Parents don’t realize the severity of a possible ingestion. Often times, a single pill can be deadly.”
In fact, prescription and over-the-counter medication poisoning is seen more often than recreational or club drug overdoses, according to emergency department physicians.
To prevent a possible poisoning, Dr. Lee advises parents to store their prescription medications well out of reach of young hands and to carefully track each and every pill. If you drop a pill, make certain you find it before your child does.
And if your child does ingest a prescription medication, bring him or her to the nearest emergency department right away. Additionally, Dr. Lee says the Illinois Poison Center (800.222.1222) is also a valuable resource to parents and health care providers alike, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.