Child Deaths by Medication Poisoning Rising

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(CNN) — It’s a stunning statistic: Each day roughly four school busloads of U.S. children — about 165 young kids — are seen in emergency rooms after getting into medications – and each visit is preventable.

Those are the findings revealed in a report by Safe Kids Worldwide, which unveiled a new initiative Tuesday called “Safe Storage, Safe Dosing, Safe Kids.” The campaign calls on caregivers, medical personnel, pharmacists, drug makers and government groups to work to reduce accidental poisonings of children from medications.

“This is a brand new initiative for Safe Kids, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of poison control centers and National Poisoning Prevention week,” says Safe Kids Worldwide president/CEO Kate Carr.

The report, which contains poisoning data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Poison Control Centers, reveals that while overall U.S. poisoning deaths among kids plunged by half from 1979 to 2006 – the percentage of those deaths from medications — both prescription and over-the-counter products — has nearly doubled, jumping from 36% to 64%.

The skyrocketing trend is blamed on several factors, including more available and improperly stored medications in homes. Also, the report points to rising numbers of households with multiple generations – which increases child access to medications. Other reasons cited by the report include improperly coordinated medication dosing because of multiple caregivers, and unsupervised young children who love to put things in their mouths.

“Kids in homes are curious, ” explains Carr, “and kids are always going to be curious, so if you have medication, make sure it’s stored up and away.”

She also notes that many pills look like candy, which can be enticing to children.

Among children who are taken to the emergency room due to accidental medication overdoses, 95% swallowed products while being unsupervised, according to the report.

Something as simple as a caregiver leaving a child alone in order to use the restroom can result in an emergency situation. Five percent of emergency visits were due to caregivers making a dosing error.

Safe Kids’ new initiative to fight medication-related poisonings and deaths calls for changes among caregivers, the pharmaceutical industry, the health care community, and both federal and state governments.

The plan urges parents, grandparents, childcare providers and other caregivers to become familiar with safe storage practices, and Safe Kids cites the CDC’s new “Up and Away and Out of Sight” educational program which reminds caregivers to store medications out of sight and out of reach of children.

Caregivers should never refer to medications as “candy.”

It’s critical that caregivers always close child-resistant bottle caps on medications, and put them out of sight and out of reach of children.

Parents and caregivers should also program the Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) into home and cell phones.

Safe Kids calls on the pharmaceutical industry to conduct further research to reduce dosage errors, and eliminate sources of confusion on dosages of medications.

They favor improving child resistant packaging, noting that “child resistant” does not mean “child proof”, and many motivated children are able to open child resistant packaging.

The initiative also asks physicians and pharmacists to educate parents and caregivers about safe dosage practices and proper storage of medicines, as well as reminding caregivers of risks associated with common products such as vitamins, cough and cold medications and acetaminophen.

Pharmacists are urged to make sure caregivers understand how medications should be taken, including proper storage of all medications.

The report stresses that federal and local governments have “a critical role to play in medication safety,” including effective regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, supporting funding for poison control centers, providing leadership in public health education programs, and providing medication disposal program.

Carr explains that “while accidents do happen, many of them are preventable, and it’s important to identify risks and teach parents and caregivers what they can do to prevent an unneccesary accident.”

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