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70,000 Kids Accidentally Overdose Every Year — And It's Not on Illegal Drugs

Summer is the perfect time to clean house and keep them safe

Emily E. Smith

Published on: July 17, 2018

Little girl reaching under the kitchen sink

Parents are often meticulous about baby-proofing. But as babies grow, the potential danger zones in your home might be less obvious.

Instead of stairs and light sockets, the risky objects that interest kids might be some of the products you use every day like makeup, cleaning products, medications or batteries.

Summer is a perfect time to peruse the house for toxins and make sure they’re out of sight and inaccessible to curious little ones. This is the time of year that often finds parents outside tackling yard work and household chores, entertaining with backyard barbecues or camping. It’s also the time of year when you might have more visitors and houseguests.

Take all of these circumstances together, and it’s possible that pesticides, fertilizers, lighter fluid, medicines and other substances that are dangerous to kids could end up in a spot that’s not safe for kids.

If it’s hard to imagine your kids playing with a tub of detergent or swallowing a pill found on the floor, consider these national stats from the American Association of Poison Control Centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Poison control centers across the country took calls for nearly 2.2 million poison exposures in 2016.
  • 70,000 kids per year receive emergency care for accidental overdoses.
  • The most frequent causes of poisonings in children are cosmetics or personal care products, followed by cleaning products, painkillers, toys and other objects.
  • Of cases reported to poison control centers, gases, vapors and fumes are the leading cause of child deaths, followed by pain medications. 

So, what safety measures can you take to prevent poison exposure? Follow these tips from the National Capital Poison Center and the Washington Poison Center:

  • Store toxic products such as medicines, cleaning products, pesticides, antifreeze and paints in locked cabinets or containers. Don’t leave pills on countertops, tables or nightstands.
  • Keep all medications in their original bottles or packaging, and always use child-safety caps when have the option. Get rid of unused medications.
  • Follow dosing directions when providing medicine to your kids, and be sure to use the measuring device that comes with liquid medications. Ask caregivers to adhere to the same guidelines.
  • If summertime for you means occasions for socializing with friends and neighbors, remember to be vigilant about your children’s access to alcohol. Be aware of accessibility to alcohol in your own house and drinks left unattended at gatherings.
  • Be mindful of button batteries. These increasingly common batteries found in musical greeting cards and many other devices can cause serious harm if swallowed.
  • Keep the number for the nationwide poison control center on hand and dial it any time you’re concerned about a possible poison exposure: 1-800-222-1222

The curiosity that leads young children to open medicine bottles or ingest household products of course isn’t limited to pre-school ages. Early this year, a viral joke spurred kids and young adults to film themselves eating Tide laundry detergent pods. That event is a good reminder that older kids and teens also feel the urge to explore and experiment — or get a reaction from friends. And as with young children, the consequences are sometimes harmful and even deadly.

Talk to older kids and teens about these kinds of trends and make sure they understand that even minimal exposure to poison can have grave results. Let them know the videos or memes they might see online often don’t tell the whole story. The ill effects that come from an accidental drug overdose or ingesting even small amounts of some toxins can be severe and long-lasting.

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