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Drug poisonings spike among young children

Sun., Sept. 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES – Child-safety caps were a great invention. Their use in recent decades significantly reduced the number of kids accidentally poisoned by medicines. The caps worked so well that adults found the bottles hard to open.

But prescription dispensing has changed, and there are indications that children are finding ways to ingest drugs that are not meant for them. According to a study published Friday, the rate of accidental child poisonings with prescription drugs rose dramatically in the United States in the last decade.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center looked at a database of more than half a million children 5 or younger who had visited an emergency room because of possible poisoning by medication. They found a 22 percent increase in accidental drug exposures from 2001 to 2008 even though the population of children increased by only 8 percent during the study period. Such poisonings had fallen from 1990 to 2000.

Prescription drugs, especially oxycodone, morphine and codeine, accounted for more than half of the exposures.

“The problem of pediatric poisoning in the U.S. is getting worse, not better,” said Dr. Randall Bond, the lead author of the study. “Effective efforts at ‘poison proofing’ may have plateaued or declined.”

It’s not clear why poisoning rates are up. It could be that there are simply more drugs in people’s homes these days. The number of prescription pain medications, for example, has increased.

The authors suggested that medicine bottles and packages may need to be redesigned to limit how fast a child can consume their contents. Meanwhile, parents and guardians are advised to store drugs in locked cabinets and rid the home of unused medications.


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