Doctors prescribe medicine for people who are sick, hurt, or have certain conditions. However, medicine can be very harmful or life threatening if taken wrong or abused.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year emergency rooms get about 60,000 cases of kids who get into over-the-counter medicines or prescription drugs. No parent or caregiver wants their children to be sick or die from drug overdose. Below are detailed guidelines and tips on how to prevent this.
Path to safety
Safely store medicine
It is important to childproof your home for kids. This includes storing all of your medicine, vitamins, and prescription drugs in out-of-reach areas. Cabinets that are high up or locked are ideal. Low cabinets, countertops, or purses are not safe. After using a medicine, replace the cap or close the lid tight. Ask the doctor or pharmacy if child-resistant lids are available. Always return the medicine to its safe location, even if you use it regularly. Never leave your child alone in a room that contains medicine, even if it is stored safely. Children are resourceful, persistent, and quick!
Keep all medicine in its original container to prevent confusion or accidents. Some prescriptions or medicines also require certain temperatures. Read all instructions and directions to know how to properly store it.
These guides also apply when you are traveling. When you have visitors, place their jackets and bags out of reach. If they are staying with you, ask them to store medicine in a safe spot. When you visit other people’s houses, it is okay to ask where their medicine is stored. This extra action could save your child’s life. Also, remain alert in stores to keep your child from getting any pills or medicine they shouldn’t.
Safely give medicine
Children watch everything adults do. Be a good role model for giving and taking medicine. Read drug ingredients, amounts, facts, and effects before using any medicine. This is true even for repeat prescriptions, because directions can change. Use a consistent and reliable measuring method. Do not give medicine in different amounts or at different times than prescribed. Call your nurse or doctor with questions, or if your child has a bad reaction.
Safely educate on medicine
Explain to your child upfront that only adults can give medicine. They should never take medicine they find or try to get it on their own. Children are very curious, so be direct and tell them why they are taking medicine. Do not confuse children by calling it candy or treats. Giving them medicine should be a serious activity.
As kids gets older, teach them how to read medicine and prescription labels. Make sure they are aware of or have a list of their known allergies. Your children should know that directions from the doctor are rules, not suggestions.
The number of teens abusing prescription drugs each day increases every year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is more common than the combined abuse of ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, and other stimulants. Often times, kids don’t realize that prescription drug abuse is illegal and can be more dangerous than that of street drugs. It’s important to talk to your kids about drug abuse, so they understand the risks and results. Hopefully doing this will prevent accidental or uninformed drug use.
In addition, you need to stay educated and connected. Current drug trends include “pharm parties,” where teenagers (and younger!) bring bottles of prescription medicine to share at parties. They can also purchase prescription drugs through legal websites, and misuse inhalants and OTC cough medicine.
Inform your children about the trends so they know what to look for and how to act in those situations. Let them know that they can talk to you or other trustworthy adults about this topic. Get to your know your kids, their friends, and their activities. Monitor their phone, email, and online use. Contact your doctor or a counselor for additional help on talking to your child about prescription drugs and abuse.
Safely dispose of medicine
It is easy to end up with a variety of medicines and prescription drugs. You should keep a list of everything for your own records. You should dispose of medicine as soon as it’s expired, no longer needed, or unused. Only flush medicine if directions on the bottle or box say you can. Another option is to crush or pour medicine into a bag. Add an unwelcome material, such as cat litter or dirt, prior to sealing and throwing it out. Also, be sure to remove your personal information from containers before putting them in the trash.
Check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidelines for each drug’s proper disposal instructions. Some areas have take-back events hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA.) Also available are approved DEA collectors and collection sites.
Things to consider
As a parent, there are other people who play a role in your child’s well being. Family members, babysitters, and other caregivers need to be on the same page. Talk to them about practicing safe methods of giving, storing, and disposing of medicine.
Create a medication list and monitor it regularly. The list should include all prescription drugs and who they belong to. It should include the amount of medicine and number of refills. Keep track of this list to know if part or all of certain medicines go missing. This is a sign that someone in your family is experiencing a form of drug abuse.
Get help immediately if you see signs of drug overdose, poisoning, or drug abuse. If your child is not alert or breathing, call 911. If they are awake and alert, call the poison helpline at 1-800-222-1222. The center is always open, and the number should be posted at your house and saved in your phone.
Questions to ask your doctor
- At what age should I start involving my child in their medicine routine?
- What are best practices for children taking prescription drugs for a developmental disorder or sports injury?
- When should I start talking to my child about drug abuse?
- How can I tell the difference between normal teenage mood behavior and symptoms of possible prescription drug abuse?
- Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Disposal Information
- The Medicine Abuse Project, Parent Talk Kit
- Up & Away, a PROTECT initiative in partnership with CDC (English and Spanish)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, How To Use Medicines Safely
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Medicine Disposal List
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.