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Every 10 minutes a child goes to the ER for medicine poisoning, report finds

Many parents are underestimating their kids' ability to get their hands on dangerous medications and need to do more to protect young children from accidental poisonings, a new report warns. The research from the children's advocacy organization Safe Kids Worldwide finds that each day 142 children under the age of 6 go to an emergency room after getting into medicine. That's equivalent to one child every 10 minutes.

The report notes this number has been decreasing in recent years, a sign that education efforts to protect kids from medicine poisoning are having a positive impact. But with more than 50,000 kids under 6 visiting an ER each year for dangerous medicine exposures, the number is still far too high.

Why are so many children still at risk?

The researchers also explored parental behaviors that could contribute to the problem. They found that parents are frequently surprised by the speed of children's development and only child-proof their homes according to their child's ability at the present time. In other words, once their infant starts to crawl, that's when they will install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs. 

But experts say parents need to plan for the future. "It's easy to look at your beautiful, newborn baby and think that he's not going anywhere anytime soon; believing you still have plenty of time to child-proof your home," Torine Creppy, president of Safe Kids Worldwide, said in a statement. "But we've learned from our research that parents are all too often surprised by how quickly their babies grow and change. That's why it's so important to start life-saving habits, like safe medicine storage, well before your baby is on the move."

The report also found a difference in where parents say they "store" their medication as opposed to where they "keep" it. Many in the study stored certain medications up and away, and out of sight, such as in medicine cabinets or in a closet. But they often kept more frequently used medicines in purses, nightstands or counters. This disconnect means parents can lose track of all the places where medicines are in the house, leaving their child at greater risk of getting into a potentially dangerous situation.

Tips to protect kids from medicine poisonings

When child-proofing your home, medication safety is just as important as fencing off stairs or covering electrical sockets. Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the following:

  • Keep all medicine out of children's reach and sight, even medicine you take every day, every time. Keep all bags or briefcases that may contain medications on high shelves or hang them on hooks where your child can't reach them.
  • Remember products you might not think about as medicine, including diaper rash remedies, vitamins and eye drops.
  • Teach your child that medicine should always be given by an adult and never refer to medicine as candy.
  • Save the Poison Help number in your phone and post it visibly at home: 1-800-222-1222. Specialists at poison control centers provide free, confidential, expert medical advice 24 hours a day. They can answer questions about how to give or take medicine and help with poison emergencies.
  • Share medicine safety information with family and friends. Teach other caregivers about medicine safety and make sure they know the Poison Help number: 1-800-222-1222.