Distractions Lead to Accidental Poisonings, Medication Mistakes During Back-to-School Time

UVA’s Blue Ridge Poison Center gets 30,000 phone calls a year. When you hear that number, you might think of snakebites or toddlers finding cleaning products under the bathroom sink.

Medication mistakes are common before school when parents are busy and preoccupied.
Medication mistakes are common before school when parents are busy and preoccupied.

But many of those calls come as a result of medication mistakes. And medication mistakes are common at the start of the school year.

Consider these typical scenarios:

  • A mother puts her 8-year-old’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication beside his orange juice at breakfast. The mother turns her back for a minute, and her toddler grabs the pill and swallows it.
  • Two parents, rushing to get ready for work and get their 5-year-old daughter ready for school, both unknowingly give their daughter her allergy pill.
  • A father reaches for his medicine in the kitchen cabinet, becomes distracted by his son asking about homework, and accidentally takes the dog’s heartworm pill.

“The biggest problem with back-to-school is the change in routine,” says Kristin Wenger, the Blue Ridge Poison Center’s education coordinator. “Everybody has a new deadline, there are lunches that have to be packed, and adults get distracted.”

Toddlers see their parents or older siblings taking medicine and want to imitate them, Wenger explains. They’ll grab pills sitting out when a parent’s back is turned, even just for a second. And even one dose of some medications can be dangerous to a toddler, including drugs prescribed for common conditions like heart problems, depression and diabetes.

Prevent Medication Mistakes and Other Poisonings  

Wenger offers these tips to keep your family safe during back-to-school and throughout the year:

  • Keep medications up high and out of kids’ sight.
  • Don’t leave children alone with potential poisons like medicine or cleaning products, not even for a minute.
  • Take a moment to read labels so you know you’re taking or giving the right medicine and the right dose.
  • Don’t pour liquids out of the bottles they came in and put them in another container. For example, it might be easier to pour bleach into a cup to use it, but it’s more likely someone could try to drink it when it’s in an unlabeled container, Wenger says.
  • Keep the Poison Center’s number handy. In the Unites States, dialing 1.800.222.1222 will connect you to your region’s poison center 24 hours a day, every day. All calls are free and confidential.

Wenger encourages you to call the Poison Center even if you’re not sure anything happened. “A lot of people don’t want to call if there are no obvious symptoms because they don’t want to bother our nurses. But we’d much rather have them call,” she says. “Sometimes symptoms are delayed and there are steps you can take to prevent someone from getting sick or sicker.”

Calling the Poison Center can also save you a trip to the doctor or emergency room.  In 2011, 67 percent of Poison Center callers were able to manage symptoms at home.

Learn more about the Blue Ridge Poison Center and take a poison trivia quiz.

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