Prevent Accidental Poisonings

Poisonings can result from medicines, pesticides, household cleaning products, carbon monoxide, and lead.  More than 4 million calls are made to poison control centers every year in the United States.  About half those calls are regarding children under six years old.1  Every day in the US, nearly 87 people die as a result of unintentional poisoning, and another 2,277 are treated in emergency departments.2  Unintentional poisoning death in the US increased by 160% from 1999 to 2009.2  Unintentional poisoning deaths were second only to vehicle crashes as a cause of unintentional injury death for all ages in 2009.  Among people 25 to 64 years old, unintentional poisoning caused more deaths than motor vehicle crashes.2 In 2005, poisonings led to $33.4 billion in medical and productivity costs.

What To Do If A Poisoning Occurs

  • Remain calm.
  • Call 911 if you have a poison emergency and the victim has collapsed or is not breathing.  If the victim is awake and alert, dial 1-800-222-1222. Try to have this information ready:
    • the victim’s age and weight
    • the container or bottle of the poison if available
    • the time of the poison exposure
    • the address where the poisoning occurred
  • Stay on the phone and follow the instructions from the emergency operator or poison control center.

General Tips

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector and change batteries at least every six months.
  • Post the Poison Help number (800-222-1222) by home phone and program into cell phone.
  • Teach children to ask an adult before eating, drinking, or touching anything.
  • Keep batteries out of a children's reach. 
  • Keep magnetic toys and other magnetic items away from small children.
  • Know the name of all household plants in your home and yard; remove any poisonous plants.
  • Keep all medications, household cleaning products, and pesticides away from children and pets. 

Medications

In 2008, 28,171 (91 percent) of all unintentional poisoning deaths were caused by drugs. The class of drugs known as prescription painkillers, which includes such drugs as methadone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, were most commonly involved, followed by cocaine and heroin.Between 2004 and 2005, an estimated 71,000 children (<18 years of age) were seen in emergency departments each year because of medication poisonings (excluding abuse and recreational drug use). Over 80 percent were because an unsupervised child found and consumed medications.4

  • Keep all medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements, where children can’t reach them or see them.  If your child can see it, assume they can reach it.
  • Close caps on medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements and other products immediately after use, making sure that they are put back on tightly.
  • Keep medicines in their original bottles or containers.
  • Read medicine and product labels before use, and always follow directions exactly.
  • Read the label of prescription and over-the-counter medicine carefully to make sure you aren’t taking more than one acetaminophen-containing product at a time.
  • Always turn on the light and put on your glasses when giving or taking medication; check the dosage each time.
  • Always contact your doctor or pharmacist before you take an herbal product, as they can interact with your prescribed medicines.
  • Never mix medicines and alcohol.
  • Never “borrow” a friend’s medicine or take old medicine.
  • Tell children what medicine is and why you must be the one to give it to them. Never call medicine “candy” to get them to take it.
  • Take your medicine where children can’t see you; they may try to imitate you.
  • Only take prescription medications that are prescribed to you by a healthcare professional. Misusing or abusing prescription or over-the-counter medications is not a “safe” alternative to illicit substance abuse.
  • Never take larger or more frequent doses of your medications, particularly prescription pain medications, to try to get faster or more powerful effects.
  • Monitor the use of medicines prescribed for children and teenagers, such as medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
  • Never share or sell your prescription drugs. Keep all prescription medicines (especially prescription painkillers, such as those containing methadone, hydrocodone, or oxycodone), over-the-counter medicines (including pain or fever relievers and cough and cold medicines), vitamins and herbals in a safe place that can only be reached by people who take or give them.
  • Be aware of any legal or illegal drugs that guests may bring into your home. Ask guests to store drugs where children cannot find them.  Children can easily get into pillboxes, purses, backpacks, or coat pockets.
  • Dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs. Follow federal guidelines for how to do this (FDA 2011)
  • When you are taking or giving medications;
    • Do not put your next dose on the counter or table where children can reach them—it only takes seconds for a  a child to get them.
    • If you have to do something else while taking medicine, such as answer the phone, take any young children with you.
    • Secure the child safety cap completely every time you use a medicine.
    • After using them, do not leave medicines or household products out.  As soon as you are done with them, put them away and out of sight in a cabinet where a child cannot reach them.

Household Cleaning Products

Many household cleaning products and air fresheners contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).  For more information on VOCs, please click here.

  • Choose the least toxic option.  Often soap and water or vinegar and water solution will do the job.
  • Keep all household cleaning products in locked cabinets or where children cannot reach them.  Do not assume child-resistant is the same as childproof.  Do not assume that children know not to play with them.
  • Always store products in their original containers.  Never store in food containers.
  • Always read the label before using.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions.  Do not assume more is better.
  • Never mix household cleaning products together.  For example, mixing bleach and ammonia can result in toxic gases.
  • Turn on the fan and open windows when using chemical products.  See more on household cleaning products by clicking here.
  • When using,
    • Do not place where children can reach.  It only takes seconds for a child to get them.
    • If get interrupted, such as answering phone, take children with you, or secure household products.
    • As soon as you are through, make sure to secure products.

Pesticides

Americans use more than a billion pounds of pesticides each year to combat pests on farm crops, in homes, places of business, schools, parks, hospitals, and other public places.  Adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders.  Children are at a greater risk for pesticide poisonings.  Children's internal organs are still developing and maturing.  Children may be exposed more to certain pesticides because often they eat different foods than adults; children typically consume more milk, applesauce, and orange juice per pound of body weight than do adults.  Children's behaviors, such as playing on the floor or on the lawn, or putting objects in their mouths, increase their chances of exposure to pesticides.  Poisoning incidents can be prevented if products that could potentially harm children are locked up.  Yet, an EPA study found that among households with children under the age of five, nearly half stored pesticides in an unlocked cabinet, within reach of children.  For more information on pesticides and integrated pest management, please click here

  • Try prevention before using pesticides.
  • Choose the least toxic option.  
  • Always store pesticides out of the reach of children and pets, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Read the label!  Carefully read and follow manufacturer's label.
  • Don’t assume twice as much is better.  Always read and follow manufacturer’s directions.
  • Remove children, pets, toys, bottles and pacifiers before applying pesticides.  Follow label directions to determine when children and pets can return to the area that has been treated.
  • Don’t transfer pesticides to other containers.  Whenever possible, use ready-to-use products.  If product requires water to be added, only mix as much as you are going to use at one time.  Do not mix products in food or beverage containers.
  • Don't use empty pesticide containers to store anything else.  Do not use containers you've mixed pesticides in for anything else.  No matter how well you wash the container, it could still contain remnants of the pesticide and could harm someone.
  • Properly dispose of leftover pesticides and pesticide containers.  Pesticides can be recycled at Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency.  For more information, visit their website at www.solidwasteagency.org or call them at (319) 377-5290.
  • To protect children and pets from exposure to insecticides, use products with a tamper-resistant bait station.
  • If your use of a pesticide is interrupted, properly reclose the container and remove it from children’s reach.
  • When applying insect repellents to children, read directions.  Don’t apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin; don’t apply to eyes, mouth, hands, or directly on face; and use just enough to cover exposed skin or clothing, but do not use under clothing.
  • Don’t use outdoor chemicals inside.  Many chemicals intended for use outdoors are dangerous to use indoors because they will not properly breakdown indoors and remain toxic longer indoors than they would outdoors.
  • Don’t use illegal pesticides; look for EPA registration number (i.e., EPA Reg. No. 500-123456).
  • Do not use foggers.
  • Wash children’s hands, toys, and bottles often. Regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces to reduce possible exposure to lead and pesticide residues.
  1. American Association of Poison Centers
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2012) [cited 2012 Feb 1]. Available from URL: www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription painkiller overdoses in the US. Vital Signs. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2011
  4. Schillie SF, Shehab, N, Thomas, KE, Budnitz DS. Medication overdoses leading to emergency department visits among children. Am J Prev Med 2009;37:181-187.
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