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Are you making these risky medication storage mistakes?

Some of the most common health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, require medications that can be very dangerous to children. A single beta-blocking pill can have deadly consequences when ingested by a small child.

Sadly, accidental poisonings are all too common. More than 59,000 children go to the ER every year because they ingested a medication—that’s one child every nine minutes. In nearly half of those cases, that medication belonged to a grandparent.

To prevent serious injury to your family, it’s critical for grandparents, parents, and any caregivers to review their drug storage methods to make sure they aren’t making these common mistakes:

Mistake #1: Using other pill containers

Day-of-the-week pill holders may make it easy to track when to take your medications, but they also make it simple for small hands to access powerful drugs. Clear plastic enables children to spot brightly colored pills and confuse them for candy. It’s always safest to keep drugs in their original containers.

Mistake #2: Keeping medicine within arm’s reach

Storing medicine on the nightstand or bathroom counter makes it handy for you—and curious children—to grab. Instead, keep prescriptions up high and out of sight. Stow purses, bags, and luggage containing medicines out of reach.

Mistake #3: Depending on childproof bottles

Childproof caps provide an extra layer of protection, but aren’t foolproof. Many children are deft enough to get bottles open, especially if lids aren’t screwed on completely.

Mistake #4: Not protecting all forms of medication

Many prescriptions come as creams, gels, foams, patches, and injections. Drugs don’t have to be pill-shaped to be dangerous. Over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbal supplements, essential oils, eye drops, hand sanitizers, and lash-growth medicines all contain active ingredients that can be unsafe for children.

Mistake #5: Holding onto old drugs

Properly dispose of prescriptions and medications from past procedures so kids can’t accidently ingest them. Many old, expired medications can break down into toxic or cancer-causing components. Need more convincing? At-risk teenagers often obtain opioid drugs by taking prescription pain relievers and arthritis medications from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets. By tracking the number of pills you have, and getting rid of old drugs, you prevent unintended use.

Excellent medication storage habits will go a long way toward ensuring the safety of all family members. However, if despite your precautions a child accidentally ingests a medication, you’ll need to act quickly.

What to do in an emergency

Call the Poison Control Center, which has data on every type of substance and medication. The toxicologist and staff who are on duty can advise you about what to do next.

In the case of certain medications—such as beta-blockers for high blood pressure or some medications for diabetes—you should call 911 immediately. If your child is not acting or breathing right, also call 911.


Dr. Terry Moy-Brown is emergency medicine physician at Vancouver Clinic’s Urgent Care Department. She has a special interest in public health. She is fluent in Spanish and conversant in Portuguese.