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Prevent Accidental Poisoning

A child in Kentucky is poisoned every 20 minutes. From household cleaners to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, accidental poisonings continue to cause serious injury and sometimes death to children—mostly age 6 and under.

By taking a few precautions in your home and garage, and looking for dangers in the homes of family members and caregivers, many accidental poisonings can be prevented.

Take poison precautions
All medications—including vitamins—should have child-resistant caps and be kept in a cabinet out of reach of children, says Bob Kuhn, Pharm.D., pediatric pharmacist at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. “Cabinets or other places where medications are stored also should be locked.”

Medications should be kept in their original containers and never put in unmarked pill boxes or other containers where they could be mistaken for something other than medication. Children should also never be told medicine is “candy” or that it “tastes like candy.” Doing so may mislead a child into thinking that medicine can be eaten like candy, and that can lead to disaster.

Prescription medicines found in the homes of relatives or caregivers are also a danger to small children. Grandparents often don’t have child-resistant prescription vials, or may be less careful about leaving loose pills and inhalers sitting out on tables, kitchen counters, or in purses within a child’s reach. Children can swallow these medications when they are visiting grandparents or when the grandparents visit them, Kuhn says. “To prevent this continuing tragedy, parents and grandparents must keep medicines out of reach and out of sight of small children,” Kuhn says. “Grandparents and caregivers also are encouraged to use child-resistant containers.”

POISON CONTROL Emergency Hotline
(800) 222-1222

Other poison dangers
• Personal care products, including baby oil and mouthwash

• Cleaning substances, such as oven cleaners and detergents

• Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin, as well as cough and cold medicines

• Hydrocarbons, such as decorative lamp oils and furniture polish

Activated charcoal
In addition to poison-proofing your home, parents should keep a bottle of activated charcoal on hand that can be used in case of some poisonings. Available at most pharmacies, activated charcoal is a specially treated black powder that absorbs and binds poisons in the stomach, stopping their action at that site. However, it should not be given unless a physician or the poison control center has been consulted. “It’s appropriate in many cases of accidental poisoning, but not all,” Kuhn says.

In November 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that syrup of ipecac no longer be used in the home to induce vomiting for ingested poisoning, as there is no evidence that it decreased death rates in children.


Observe National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24, by becoming more informed. To help prevent accidental poisonings, the UK College of Pharmacy and the National Poison Prevention Week Council suggest:

• Call the 24-hour, toll-free Kentucky Regional Poison Center emergency hotline at (800) 222-1222 immediately in case of poisoning, for children or adults, of any kind. This includes drug, gas, plant, insect, snake, pesticide, chemical, cleaning, or automobile product, toy, cosmetic, or personal care product—whether it’s swallowed, inhaled, gets in the eyes, or is exposed to the skin. It’s a free call, staffed by highly trained nurses and physicians trained in clinical toxicology.

• Properly use child-resistant packaging by closing the container securely after each use.

• Do not put decorative lamps and candles that contain lamp oil where children can reach them. Lamp oil is very toxic if ingested by children.

• Always turn the light on when giving or taking medicine so you can see what you are taking. Check the dosage every time.

• Avoid taking medicine in front of children.

• Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home; do not warm up your car in an attached garage.

• To learn more, go online to the Kentucky Regional Poison Center at or the National Poison Prevention Week site at

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