Medications pose high poisoning risk for children

(New York Times) -Parents may want to lock the medicine cabinet as well as the cabinet under the sink. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more than twice as many children are accidentally poisoned with prescription or over-the-counter medicines as with household consumer products.

The researchers estimate that more than 70,000 children under 18 visit emergency rooms yearly suffering from unintentional medication overdoses, compared with about 30,000 for poisonings with other products. Most of the affected children have ingested medicines without their parents’ knowledge, but eight per cent of emergency room visits and 14 percent of hospitalizations were the result of parents accidentally overdosing their offspring. More than 75 percent of the medication overdoses were in children under five.

Dr. Daniel S. Budnitz, the senior author and an epidemiologist with the C.D.C., said that the study did not count visits to private physicians’ offices or other health care facilities, so the numbers are probably an underestimate.

The study, published in the August issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that the drug most commonly implicated in poisoning was acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands), with opioid painkillers and benzodiazepine antianxiety drugs close behind.

Dr. Budnitz said that parents should of course keep medications out of the reach of children, but that packaging improvements are also important. ‘Child safety caps came out in the 1970s and haven’t changed much,’ he said. ‘There are packaging improvements that can be made, and we’re working with manufacturers and other federal agencies to encourage this.