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2012 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 17, No. 1
March 2012

Increase in Young Children Accidentally Poisoned with Pharmaceuticals

A 2011 study by Dr. Randall Bond and colleagues gathered data about 544,133 children age 5 years and younger who had visited the emergency department (ED) because they may have been poisoned by medication.

During the study period (2001 to 2008) 95% of ED visits were due to self-ingestion. Prescription drugs accounted for 55% of the ED visits, 76% of hospital admissions, and 71% of significant injuries. The biggest impact came from opioid pain relievers (e.g., oxycodone), sedative hypnotics (e.g., muscle relaxants, sleep aids), and cardiovascular medications.

Though the number of U.S. children under age 5 increased only 8% during the study period, there was a 22% rise in the exposure for this age group. Study authors attribute this increase to a greater availability of, and access to, medications in the home. They note that effective “poison proofing” may have plateaued or declined in recent years.

“Prevention efforts of parents and caregivers to store medicines in locked cabinets or up and away from children continue to be crucial. However, the largest potential benefit would come from packaging design changes that reduce the quantity a child could quickly and easily access in a self-ingestion episode, like flow restrictors on liquids and one-at-a-time tablet dispensing containers,” Dr. Bond suggests.

Bond recommends these changes be applied to both adult and pediatric products and to over-the-counter and prescription products.

References for this and other articles in this issue