How to Keep Medicines Safe From Kids

Key Takeaways

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled several medicine bottles because they did not meet child-resistant packaging requirements.
  • Medicines that could poison children are required to have child-resistant packaging, but it’s also important to keep bottles out of reach.
  • Parents should also teach kids about medicine safety.

On June 16, 2022, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued recalls of several store-brand acetaminophen bottles because they failed to meet child-resistant packaging requirements.

The products recalled were Walgreens Pain Reliever Acetaminophen (150 count bottles), Kroger Aspirin (300 count bottles), Kroger Ibuprofen (160 count bottles), and Kroger Arthritis Pain Acetaminophen (225 count bottles).

These products are required to have child-resistant packaging because of the risk of poisoning. Child-resistant packaging is one of several ways we can keep our children from accessing medicine. But, it’s not enough on its own. Manufacturers can slip up, as we see in these recalls. It’s also possible to accidentally close the bottles incompletely, which would allow children to open them easily. Some kids will even have the ingenuity to figure out how to open those child-safe tops.

Every year about 50,000 children visit the Emergency Department for unintentional medication overdose, and almost all of these visits happened because the child got into medicine without their caregiver realizing it. It’s essential to prevent little ones from getting their hands on the bottles in the first place.

Safe Storage of Medication

Medication should be stored safely in the home, out of children’s reach at all times. Using multiple layers of protection is the best way to make sure that little ones can’t get to any medications.

Here are a few ways to keep medicine bottles from accidentally falling into your kids’ hands.

Store Medications Out of Sight and Reach

Choose a spot in your home that is high up, such as the top shelf in a cabinet. It’s best if the bottles are out of sight as well, to prevent children from becoming curious and trying to get at them. “It is important to keep medication away and out of reach of children, even if they are in child-resistant bottles,” notes Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, a pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best. “If you are using pill organizers for daily dosages, they must be put in a safe place.”

All of your medicines should be stored in this way. Remember to put any coats or purses that you store medicine in out of reach as well. “Visitors may have medication stored in a purse or coat pocket,” says Dr. Poinsett. “These items should be kept out of reach of children.”

Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

It is important to keep medication away and out of reach of children, even if they are in child-resistant bottles.

— Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Put Medications Away Every Time

Leaving your morning medications out with your breakfast or keeping a bottle by your bedside can save time, but you should never do this if you have young children in the home. Even if you take a medication several times per day, put the bottle away and out of reach every time you take it.

This goes for the child’s own medications as well. Instead of leaving the bottle by their bedside or at the breakfast table, administer the dose and then put the bottle away.

Close Bottles Securely

If medicine bottles are not closed completely, the child safety mechanism won’t activate. Make sure that the lid is on straight while you turn it all the way to close the bottle. You should hear a click. Then, give it a twist to try and open it without pushing down, so you know you have closed it correctly.

Consider Locking Medicine Up

You may want to keep your medications in a locked box as an extra precaution. “Locking medication in a medicine cabinet or purchasing a medication lock box may be worth considering, especially if there are teens in the home,” says Pat Aussem, LPC, MAC, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development at Partnership to End Addiction. “Two-thirds of teens who report misusing prescription medication get it from friends, family and acquaintances.”

Using a lockbox should be treated as an extra layer of protection, rather than a substitute for storing the bottles out of reach. The lockbox itself should always be stored in a safe place.

Pat Aussem, LPC, MAC, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development atPartnership to End Addiction

Locking medication in a medicine cabinet or purchasing a medication lockbox may be worth considering, especially if there are teens in the home,

— Pat Aussem, LPC, MAC, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development atPartnership to End Addiction

Do Not Pack Medicine With Your Child

Any medication your child takes while at school or in childcare should be given directly to the staff to store. You should not send it in their backpack. Teachers or caretakers should administer medication in the appropriate dose to your child at the appropriate times.

Traveling With Medicine and Kids

Keeping medicines out of reach is just as important while you are traveling with your kids. If you are in a hotel room, look for a high place to store the bottles. Consider bringing your own lock box or using the hotel safe. While on the go, such as on a plane or in a car, be aware of where your medications are.

How to Teach Your Children About Medication

Teaching kids about medication safety is just as important as using preventative measures to keep it out of their hands. Tell them from an early age about taking vitamins and medications as prescribed and only when given by a parent or other caregiver. “This is not a one-time conversation, but rather ongoing age-appropriate conversations about why medication safety is a concern,” says Aussem.

Talking about medication safety can start with preschool-aged children. “Parents can explain that vitamins can help children grow, but that taking too many or taking someone else’s vitamins can make them sick,” suggests Aussem. “As children get older, parents can explain that it’s important to take medicine only when they’re sick or injured, and only if a parent or doctor gives it to them.”

Children should be clear that medicine is not candy, even if it looks like it sometimes, or even if you think that would help convince them to take it. “Never refer to a child’s medicine as candy,” says Dr. Poinsett. “Tell your child that medicine should only be given to them by an adult and be extra careful in keeping gummy bear vitamins and edibles out of their reach.”

How to Get Rid of Medication

Once a medication expires or if you are no longer in need of it, you should dispose of it as soon as possible. However, throwing it in the trash might not always be okay. Many pharmacies or hospitals have kiosks where you can drop your unneeded medication.

If you can’t find anywhere to drop of the medication, you can dispose of it yourself. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of medications you can flush down the toilet called the Flush List. If your medication is not on the flush list, mix it into coffee grounds or cat litter and throw it away.

Be Prepared in Case of Emergency

If you believe your child has gotten into a medication, call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222. Poison control will ask you what medication your child has gotten into and provide advice about what to do. They can help you rule out whether your child might have swallowed something dangerous by monitoring any symptoms.

Store Poison Control’s phone number in your phone or post it on your refrigerator so you can call right away if needed. Make sure all other caregivers are aware of this number as well.

What This Means For You

Child safe packaging on medications is only one layer of protection against accidental poisoning. If you have children at home, it’s important to keep all medications completely out of reach at all times. Choose a spot that is high up and also out of sight. Consider a lock box, but also store the lock box out of reach. Talk to your kids about medication safety from a young age, explaining that medicine should only be taken as directed.

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