A dozen ways to help parents improve medication safety

Parent Medication Safety

Prevent medication errors and accidental overdose at home

In brief:

  • Tens of thousands of children experience medication poisoning each year.1
  • While accidents happen, many are preventable.
  • Your pharmacy can help parents improve medication safety.

Medication safety is a serious problem for families with young kids

Safe Kids Worldwide states the following facts about medicine safety and children.2

  • More than 50,000 children younger than 6 are treated in ERs yearly with medication poisoning.
  • Most of these kids (84%) are between the ages of 1 and 3.
  • Nearly 9,000 have to be hospitalized.
facts about medicine safety and children
Also, about 80% of adults who have opioids, stimulants, sedatives and other potentially dangerous drugs don’t lock them up.3

Your pharmacy can help parents improve medication safety

You may think medication safety is obvious and that any parent with young children would take necessary steps to ensure their children are safe. But it isn’t so obvious.

Here are ways to help educate parents so they keep their kids safe.

  1. Start before birth. Talk with pregnant patients about childproofing their homes. Parents may think about securing drugs in a safe cabinet. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. Parents may not think about the contents of a diaper bag or a purse. Explain to parents that diaper creams, eye drops and many other items must be kept out of children’s reach.
    Also, even child-resistant caps aren’t guaranteed to stop curious kids; kids have an uncanny ability to get into anything. Remind parents to never hand a bottle of pills to a child as a makeshift rattle.
  2. Childproof grandparents’ houses, too. More than 33% of ER visits for medicine poisoning come from kids accessing grandparents’ medications.4 Talk with patients who use pillboxes or other containers that aren’t childproof about how to properly secure medications. Note that what they may consider a “handy” place to store drugs, such as on the counter, means those items are within reach of kids.
  3. Track active ingredients. Parents may not realize that a child can overdose by using two over-the-counter products with the same active ingredient, such as cold and headache remedies. Counsel parents on OTC products.
  4. Provide proper tools. Explain that household spoons don’t correctly measure medications. Provide medication syringes and show how to measure liquid medications with them. Note: Medication errors are more common with dosing cups than syringes.5
  5. Engage the kids. Encourage parents to talk with children as they administer medications. Explain what medicine is — never call it candy — and why they are taking it. Read the instructions aloud.
  6. daily medicine record for your childPrint a list with your pharmacy logo for parents to record when medications are given. Parents caring for sick kids often are sleep deprived, and it’s easy to forget who gave what dose when. (An example of a simple Daily Medicine Record for Your Child, provided by the FDA, is shown here.)
  7. Plan for school doses. If a child will need medications while at daycare or school, print extra instructions so one set can be at home and one there.
  8. Talk with parents. Don’t assume they understand written directions on products.
  9. Stick a label on it. Refrigerate. Shake well. Use sunscreen. Auxiliary labels help keep instructions top of mind.
  10. Protect through disposal. A fentanyl patch picked out of a trash bin can kill a child. Discuss safe medication disposal too, including the next Drug Take Back Day in your community.
  11. Put the poison control number in cell phones. Encourage parents, grandparents and other caregivers to add the U.S. Poison Control telephone number to their cell phones. It is: 800.222.1222. Post it on social media and urge people to add it to their contacts.
  12. Remain vigilant. While parents may be keen on protecting their newborns and toddlers, the dangers don’t end there. While toddlers may accidently put the wrong thing in their mouths, adolescents and teens may do it intentionally. Parents should talk with older children about the dangers and should continue to secure medications.

For parents, medication safety is a 24/7 lifelong responsibility.

For independent pharmacies, medication safety is a subject to discuss with every parent and grandparent. It is a great way for pharmacists to show the value they provide outside of filling prescriptions. It is part of the role of being a prominent healthcare provider who cares about children and families in your community.

1 “Medication Safety,” Safe Kids Worldwide. LINK
2 Ibid.
3 “Protect Kids From Accidental Drug Overdoses,” Consumer Reports, March 19, 2018. LINK
4 “An In-Depth Look at Keeping Young Children Safe Around Medicine,” Safe Kids Worldwide, March 2013. LINK
5 “Minimizing Medication Errors in Pediatric Patients,” Amy Wu, U.S. Pharmacist, April 18, 2019. LINK