A new study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center highlights a rise in the number of young children, over half a million each year, admitted to hospitals or seen in emergency departments because of unintentional toxic doses of prescription medication.
The increase in such exposures is so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established the PROTECT Initiative, with the goal of preventing unintended medication overdoses in children.
Dr. Randall Bond and colleagues involved in the study gathered information for 544,133 children 5 years of age and younger who had visited the emergency department (ED) because they may have been poisoned by medication.
The study, soon to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics, focused on improving poison prevention methods with the authors organizing the data according to medication type and whether the exposure was caused by the child self-ingesting the medication or by a dosing error.
“We need to know the medications and ingestion circumstances that contribute most to ED visits, hospitalization, and harm,” Bond explained in a press release. The authors found that 95 percent of ED visits resulted from self-ingestion. Prescription drugs accounted for 55 percent of the ED visits, 76 percent of hospital admissions, and 71 percent of significant injuries.
Dr. Eric Lavonas, from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, not linked to the study told Reuters: “The big thing to take away from this is we need to do a better job of keeping children and medicines away from each other in the home.”
“Store all medicines, including adult medicines and children’s medicines, up and away. Number two, put the medicine away every time you take it out.” If a child does get into medication, “It’s important to call poison control,” he concluded.
Attributing the increase of poisonings to a greater availability of, and access to, medications in the child’s home, the authors 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.
He goes on to recommend that such changes should be applied to both adult and pediatric products and to over-the-counter and prescription products.