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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
March 24/31, 2020

Adults Are Making It Easier for Children to Ingest Dangerous Drugs

JAMA. 2020;323(12):1125. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.2406

When children accidentally swallow prescription drugs, more than half the time it’s because an adult has removed the medication from child-safe packaging, according to a CDC study in the Journal of Pediatrics.


The 1970 passage of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, which required child-safe packaging for most prescription medications, helped reduce unintentional child poisonings, the authors wrote. But as medication use increased in the 2000s, so did children’s exposures to those drugs. To learn more about how children are getting access to medications, the study’s authors surveyed 4496 adults who called any of 5 US poison centers about an accidental exposure involving a child 5 years or younger between February and September 2017.

About half of the exposures to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication and 42.6% of cases involving opioids occurred when loose pills were left lying out, the study showed. In about 30% to 40% of children’s exposures to anticonvulsants, hypoglycemics, or cardiovascular/antithrombotic agents, the medication had been transferred to another container. About half of the prescription drug exposures involved a drug intended for a parent, while 30.7% involved drugs intended for a grandparent.

“These data suggest it may be time to place greater emphasis on encouraging adults to keep medicines in containers with child-resistant features,” senior author Daniel Budnitz, MD, MPH, of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, said in a statement.

Common reasons for removing drugs from child-safe packaging included moving them to pill organizers that help people remember to take them or make traveling with medications easier. Some drugs were left out for someone else to take.

“There is an opportunity here for innovative medication container options that promote adult adherence and provide portability and convenience, while maintaining child safety,” Budnitz said.