To get maximum benefit from a medication, it must be taken correctly:
- Follow the directions on the label
- Know when the medication should be taken (with or without food or water)
- Know how long to take the medication
Medications have two names: the brand name and the generic name. Inform your pharmacist of all medications you take, including nonprescription medications, food supplements and herbal remedies.
What does it all mean? Learn how to read the label at the Be MedWise site.
Common Causes of Drug Product Poisonings
Drug-related poisonings happen for many reasons:
- Careless Storage and Usage: Drug products, particularly nonprescription, are usually kept in unlocked bathroom medicine cabinets and closets, left out on dressers and on counter-tops, and are carried in easily opened pocketbooks or suitcases. Most children over two years of age can climb and reach places you think are safe.
- Children Imitate Adults: If children see you taking medicine, they may imitate you when you are not in the room.
- Calling Medicine “Candy”: Parents often refer to medicine as “candy” in the hope of making it more attractive for their child to take. Unfortunately, this might backfire. The child might eat large amounts of a medicine when no parent is around, thinking it really is candy.
- Taking the Wrong Dose: Reading the label incorrectly, or taking medicine in the dark can lead to taking the wrong medication. Taking a double dose to make up for one that was missed can result in an overdose.
- Mixing Medications: Many medications, if taken at the same time, can cause harmful reactions; for example, cold medications taken along with a sedative can cause drowsiness. Likewise, poisoning can also result from drinking alcoholic beverages while on medication.
- Experimentation: Many teenagers are poisoned while experimenting with drugs (illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter), alcohol, or household products and solvents.
- From Mother to Child: Women who are pregnant or mothers who are breastfeeding should be aware that medicines that they ingest or apply to the skin might be transmitted to their children. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or the Washington Poison Center before taking any medicine.
Drug Products Commonly Associated with Poisonings
The following drug products are most frequently associated with accidental poisoning:
- Aspirin: Poisonings involve young children who eat aspirin, thinking it is candy. Poisonings also occur when children imitate their parents taking aspirin. Aspirin poisoning may cause deep breathing, nausea, vomiting, excessive activity, and sometimes death.
- Acetaminophen: Alone or in many prescription and nonprescription pain relievers, acetaminophen causes more poisonings in most age groups than any other drug product. Acetaminophen is an ingredient found in non-aspirin pain relievers. Most poisonings involve young children, and happen under similar circumstances as aspirin poisoning. An overdose can result in nausea, vomiting, and even liver damage or death.
- Eye & Nose Decongestant Drops: Safe enough to use over-the-counter but these ingredients cause serious illness in small doses in young children. These products, like all medications should always be stored out of view and out of reach.
- Vitamins: Whether in tablet or liquid form, vitamins are frequently mistaken by small children for candy, especially fruit flavored children’s vitamins. Vitamins containing iron are very dangerous for young children. Death can result when a child ingests even a few adult iron pills. Symptoms of iron poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and drowsiness.
- Isopropyl alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is usually within easy reach in bathroom cabinets and can poison young children when they drink it directly from the bottle. Alcohol poisoning may result in excessive activity at first, followed by drowsiness and possibly coma.
- Diaper Rash Ointments: Children often mistake the ointment for toothpaste and swallow some, which may result in an upset stomach.
Safety Tips for Medication
- Use child-resistant containers: Keep in mind they are not “childproof.” Child-resistant containers can slow down the time it takes a child to open the medicine bottle in the hope that the parent or caregiver will have more time to react.
- Keep all medicines in their original labeled containers: Poisonings tend to occur when medicine and other products are put in another container. When a poisoning does happen, knowing the exact product name and ingredients will help the Poison Center in providing you with the proper first aid steps.
- Store medicines out of sight and reach of children and pets: Put a lock or child-safety latch on cabinet drawers and doors. Keep in mind that curious children (and some pets) can climb up on counters.
- Clean out the medicine cabinet regularly: Dispose of old medications appropriately, contact your pharmacy or local waste management company to see if either will take medications for disposal. Check the Take Back Your Meds web site for a list of places that will take your unused medications. Some Bartell Drugs stores will also take back medications and some law enforcement agencies.
- Don’t throw medicines away: Doing so could result in the poisoning of a child or animal.
- Call medicines what they are—medicine: Calling it candy can confuse a child with a craving for something sweet.
- Re-read the labels each time before you take or give any medicine: Be sure you have good lighting, and glasses if you need them.
- Follow the directions on the medication label: Give the recommended dosage for age and body weight and the recommended time increments. If your doctor or pharmacist told you to take the medication differently than what the package lists, keep the prescribed directions with the package.
- Pay attention to all cautions on the label: Call the Poison Center if you have any questions about the cautions, directions, or any possible side effects.
- Be sure you are not taking alternative medicines that may cause a negative affect with your prescription medicine: View a list of alternative or complementary medicines to pay attention to.
- Keep purses and other bags that may contain medicine out of reach: Medicines kept in purses are a common source of poisoning for kids.
- Grandparents should “medication-proof ” their homes prior to any child’s visit: Visiting Grandparents’ homes can result in an increased risk of children being poisoned.
- Extra safeguards and supervision need to be taken when life is a bit more chaotic: Household moves and family illness or death are likely times an accidental exposure to medicines will occur.
If you have any questions, call the Poison Center at 1.800.222.1222.