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Protect Your Children: Store & Use Medicines Safely

Woman measuring medicine in a syringe

Each year, thousands of children are treated in emergency departments after finding and ingesting medicine, or after accidentally being given the wrong amount.  Learn how to keep children safe by practicing safe dosing and storage.

June is National Safety Month and a perfect opportunity for parents and caregivers of young children to remember the importance of safe medication use and storage.

Safe Medicine Use

“Dosing errors (when a parent or other caregiver gives too much or too little medicine) are the type of medication error that most often brings children into the Emergency Department.” says Dr. Shonna Yin, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine.

When giving children liquid medicine, confusion about units of measurement can lead to large dosing errors.  For example, giving a child 5 teaspoons (tsp) instead of his/her prescribed dose of 5 milliliters (mL) would result in giving five times more than the prescribed dose!

To prevent dosing errors, medical professional organizations recommend using milliliters (mL) when prescribing oral liquid medicines and that mL units be the only units appearing on dosing instructions, labels, and dosing devices (such as oral syringes and dosing cups).

Spoons are for soup. Do not use household spoons to measure medicine. Use the oral syringe or dosing cup that comes with your liquid medicine.

Spoons are for soup. Do not use household spoons to measure medicine. Use the oral syringe or dosing cup that comes with your liquid medicine. View large description and text >>

It’s important to always use the dosing device that comes with your children’s medicine to make sure that they get the right amount.

Household spoons should not be used to measure medicine since they come in so many different shapes and sizes. Open the silverware drawer and you might see teaspoons, tablespoons, soup spoons, grapefruit spoons with “teeth,” long-handled iced tea spoons for stirring a glass of cold tea on a hot summer day – you get the idea.

Four simple tips for safe dosing

  • Know the Dose: Read all the information on the medicine label and follow the directions. Do not give a child medicine more often or in greater amounts than is stated on the package.
  • Measure the Right Amount: Always measure your child’s dose using the dosing device (oral syringe or dosing cup) that comes with the medicine.
  • Use the Right Tool: If you do not have a dosing device, ask your pharmacist for one. Do not use household spoons to give medicines to children.
  • Get Questions Answered: If you do not understand the instructions on the label, or how to use the dosing device, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before giving the medicine.

For more information about safe dosing for clinicians, check out Dr. Yin’s post on CDC’s Safe Healthcare Blog.

Safe Medicine Storage

Each year, approximately 60,000 young children are treated in emergency departments after getting into medicines on their own or after dosing errors by adults. After ensuring that your children get the right amount of medicine, it’s just as important to make sure that the medicine is immediately returned to a safe storage location.

Store medicines up and away out of the sight and reach of young children

Store medicines up and away and out of the sight and reach of young children.

Five simple tips to safe storage at home and on-the-go:

  • Choose a Safe Spot: Walk around your house to find the safest place to keep your medicines. The location should be up and away and out of the sight and reach of young children.
  • Lock the Safety Cap: Always relock the cap on a medicine bottle. If the bottle has a locking cap that turns, twist it until you hear the click or cannot twist anymore.
  • Put Medicines Away: After locking the safety cap, it’s important to always put medicines back in their safe storage location. Curious children act fast, so never leave medicine out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child’s bedside, even if you have to give it again in a few hours.
  • Remind Guests: Ask family members, houseguests, and other visitors to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicine in them up and away and out of sight when they are in your home.
  • While Traveling: While staying with family or friends or at a hotel, find a safe storage place that is out of sight and reach of young children, like a high cabinet. If you’re in a hotel room, try the passcode-protected room safe for safe storage.

Practicing these safe use and storage tips this National Safety Month and always, can help parents and caregivers keep children safe from unintentional medication overdoses.

Be prepared in case of an emergency.

  • Call your poison control center at 800.222.1222 right away if you think your child might have gotten into a medicine or vitamin, even if you are not completely sure.
  • Program the Poison Help number into your home and cell phones so you will have it when you need it.
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