Medication safety is about more than just keeping prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal remedies out of the hands of little ones. It is also about taking these things in a safe manner and often keeping them out of the hands of teens and others, too.
Let’s review the basics. Keep all medications not only out of the reach of children, but out of sight, too. This includes medications intended for them. Many are brightly colored and quite flavorful, so it is best to remove all temptations. A cabinet or drawer with child-resistant latches or locks is best. When my children were little, we had purchased a large bottle of chewable fluoride tablets to send to friends who were missionaries overseas. Our 3-year-old managed to climb onto our bed, use a stick to pop open the hook and eye at the top of our bathroom door, climb on top of the toilet tank and get them out of a high cabinet and eat a bunch of them. He had a very unpleasant trip to the emergency room and we felt awful. Kids are observant, clever and lack judgment.
Always keep medicines, even OTC ones, in the original bottle or container. When medications need to be taken at night, always turn on a light. Make sure to double-check the label to ensure you have the right bottle and the correct amount. Keep a list of all your medications, including OTC, and make sure to update it whenever there is a change. It’s a good idea to give a copy of your medication list to another family member in case of emergency.
For anyone in your family who has to take medication on a regular basis, make sure he or she understands the importance of taking it as prescribed. This includes how often the medication is taken as well as how much at one time. Just because the prescribed dose makes you feel better, it does not follow that more will make you feel better yet. Scientists and the Food and Drug Administration put a lot of time and energy into determining the doses needed of medications to treat the conditions they are being used for. More is not necessarily better and may be dangerous, and less may not be enough to do the job.
If medication does not seem to be doing what you understand that it should be doing, keep taking it and consult your health care provider. Make sure you are clear on how long it should take before you notice results and what those results should be. I frequently see patients back months after a treatment is started having the same complaints only to tell me that they took their medication for a little while and had a either a side effect and stopped it, or did not notice a benefit and stopped it. Then we get to start over. The only time you would ever want to stop taking medication before consulting your provider would be in the event of severe side effects that are a threat to your well-being.
An unfortunate reality today is older children (and adults) sneaking into medicine cabinets and taking prescription medication for themselves or to share with friends. While this is most common with pain and anxiety medications, it can happen with anything in your medicine cabinet. Keep a close eye on the amounts of all medications in your cabinet and have a frank talk with teens and tweens about the hazards of taking medications when they don’t need them. Lock up your medications if you have any doubt of their safety. It is scary how many times I am told that a friend or relative visited and medications disappeared. Talk with adults in other households that your kids visit frequently to ensure that they are taking the same precautions.
Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.