A study conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has found that the number of children who received emergency medical treatment after unintentionally ingesting prescription drugs has increased greatly in recent years.
The dramatic increase has convinced the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch a new initiative — PREVENT — in order to combat the amount of prescription drug accidents among children. Randall Bond, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children’s, studied patient records from 2001 to 2008 in the National Poison Data system, an electronic database of all calls to members of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Bond studied children 5 years old and younger exposed to a potentially toxic dose of a single pharmaceutical agent, either prescription or over-the-counter. A total of 453,559 children were included in the study.
“The problem of pediatric medication poisoning is getting worse, not better,” said Bond, who also directs the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “More children are exposed, more are seen in emergency departments, more are admitted to hospitals, and more are harmed each year.”
According to the CDC, more than 70,000 emergency department visits result from unintentional medication overdoses among children younger than 18 each year. About one in 180 2-year-olds are treated for medication overdoses. About 80 percent of all child-related medication incidents among children under the age of 12 are due to unsupervised children taking medications on their own, and 10 percent in this age group are due to medication errors.
Bond attributes the rising number of incidents to a rise in the number of medications around younger children. A 1998 survey found that half of adults had taken at least one prescription medication in the preceding week and 7 percent had taken five or more. In 2006, the same surveyors found that 55 percent had taken at least one prescription medication in the preceding week, and 11 percent had taken five or more. The doctor considers the increased number of medications in the home along with carelessness as the two biggest factors in child-medication poisoning.
“Prevention efforts at home have been insufficient,” Bond said. “We need to improve storage devices and child-resistant closures and perhaps require mechanical barriers, such as blister packs. Our efforts can’t ignore society’s problem with opioid and sedative abuse or misuse.”