As Americans get older, heavier and more out of shape, they’re being prescribed more and more
medications to lower their blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure – and to treat pain. And new
formulations mean medications stay in the body longer. The researchers used statistics from the
National Poison Data System, and compared them to data on prescriptions written for adults using
the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys for 2000 through 2009. “Increasing rates of adult drug
prescriptions are strongly associated with increases in drug exposures and poisonings among
children and appear to be a direct cause of exposures and poisonings,” they wrote in a report
published in the journal Pediatrics.
Over that time, 38,485 children took diabetes drugs that lower blood sugar; 39,693 took
cholesterol-lowering medications; 49,075 took blood pressure drugs called beta-blockers, which slow
heart rate, and 62,416 took opioid painkillers. Kids 5 and younger were by far the most likely to
be poisoned, but 2,330 teens were treated for opioid poisoning. Opioids kill quickly, but drugs
for diabetes can lower blood sugar dangerously, blood pressure medications can slow or stop the
heart, and any drug overdose can cause irreversible liver or kidney damage. Antidepressants can
cause deadly heart rhythm disturbances, and even over the counter painkillers can damage the liver
- sometimes causing death.
The data fits in with a study done in 2011 by a team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who found
prescription drugs accounted for 55 percent of kids 5 and younger treated in emergency rooms for
medication poisoning, and that 43 percent of the children required intensive care. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reports a 160 percent rise in unintentional poisonings from 1999 to
2009, 91 percent of them the result of a drug overdose.
Child-resistant packaging just isn’t enough to protect kids, the researchers noted. Adults often
don’t replace the lids on prescription bottles – and kids older than 5 can get those lids off,
anyway. And no resistant packaging is going to deter a teenager bent on experimenting with a
painkiller or, worse, determined to take a deliberate overdose.
Everyone needs to know the number of a poison control center, to get immediate guidance if they
even suspect a child has taken a prescription drug. The nationwide toll-free number for the
American Association of Poison Control Centers is 1-800-222-1222. .
NCPIE encourages healthcare professionals and community groups to foster patient–professional communication about medicines. However, NCPIE does not supervise or endorse the activities of any group or professional. Discussion and action concerning medicines are solely the responsibility of the patient and their healthcare professionals, and not NCPIE.
Please consult a licensed health care professional with questions or concerns about your medication and/or condition.