May 23, 2018
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Consumer Forum: Grandparents and accidental poisonings

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast CONTACT

Poison control centers across America receive a telephone call every 15 seconds regarding the possible accidental poisoning of a child. On average, a child is taken to an emergency room every 10 minutes for the same reason.

The recent collection of outdated and unneeded medicines by law enforcement agencies underscores the importance of getting old medications out of our homes. We would like all young consumers to live long, happy lives. Most poisonings are preventable, and we can all help by keeping both prescription and over-the-counter medicines away from curious young minds and hands.

Toddlers from 6 months to 2 years old are perhaps most at risk. They tend to put anything they find into their mouths; they also are likely to share their discoveries with other youngsters, and that makes adult vigilance doubly important when groups of children are around.

More than 60,000 emergency department visits each year involve children and accidental poisonings. Children ingest a variety of household products, but medications likely pose the biggest risk. The most common type of prescription medicine accidentally swallowed by a youngster is an opiate, such as a morphine-related painkiller. The most commonly ingested over-the-counter drugs are fever reducers, notably acetaminophen.

Studies show that about 90 percent of all poisonings happen in the home, and around 36 percent occur in the home of a grandparent or great-grandparent. University of Michigan researchers found older people tend to store their meds with convenience, rather than safety, as their top priority. It’s often difficult for seniors to open those childproof caps, but giving in to that inconvenience can have tragic consequences.

There’s an initiative called PROTECT, coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PROTECT brings together a variety of groups to advocate for safer distribution of medicine and children’s safety. This alliance asks everyone to take a pledge:

• To pick a place that’s high and out of sight of children to store medicines and vitamins;

• To put away medicines and vitamins after every use, including those used every day;

• To always relock the safety caps on medicine bottles;

• To turn a locking cap until it clicks;

• To tell guests, friends and family about medicine safety and ask visitors to keep their medicines up and away and out of sight.

In an emergency, call the national poison control hotline, 800-222-1222. This toll-free number reroutes your call to your local poison control center. When calling, have the label of the substance that the child swallowed in front of you. Give the child’s weight, age, health conditions, whether he or she has vomited, how long ago the substance was ingested, how it was ingested and how long it will take to get to a hospital.

Two-thirds of adults in one poll said they would support new laws requiring companies to produce single-dose packages, making it less likely that a child could ingest a large quantity of a medication. Such a proposal seems logical but has trade-offs, including the environmental impact of increased packaging.

For more information, visit the CDC website,

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

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