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Medicine safety and children

Every year, many children are brought to the emergency room because they took medicine by accident. A lot of medicine is made to look and taste like candy. Children are curious and attracted to medicine.

Most children find the medicine when their parent or caregiver is not looking. You can prevent accidents by keeping medicine locked up, out of reach, and out of sight. Be very careful if you have toddlers around.

Keep Medicines out of Reach and Sight

Safety tips:

  • Do not think that a child resistant cap is enough. Children can figure out how to open bottles.
  • Put a childproof lock or catch on the cabinet with your medicines.
  • Put away medicine safely after every use.
  • Never leave medicine on the counter. Curious children will climb on a chair to reach for something that interests them.
  • Do not leave your medicine unattended. Children can find medicine in your bedside drawer, your handbag, or your jacket pocket.
  • Remind visitors (grandparents, babysitters, and friends) to put away their medicine. Ask them to keep purses or bags containing medicine on a high shelf, out of reach.
  • Get rid of any old or expired medicines. Call your city government and ask where you can drop off unused medicines. Do not flush medicines down the toilet or pour them into the sink drain. Also, do not toss medicines in the trash.
  • Do not take your medicine in front of young children. Children like to copy you and may try to take your medicine just like you.
  • Do not call medicine or vitamins candy. Children like candy and will get into medicine if they think it is candy.

What to do if Your Child Takes Medicine

If you think your child has taken medicine, call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. It is open 24 hours a day.

Go to the nearest emergency room. Your child may need:

  • To be given activated charcoal. Charcoal stops the body from absorbing the medicine. It has to be given within an hour, and it does not work for every medicine.
  • To be admitted to the hospital so they can be watched closely.
  • Blood tests to see what the medicine is doing.
  • To have their heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure monitored.

Preventing Medicine Mistakes

When giving medicine to your young child, follow these safety tips:

  • Use medicine made only for children. Adult medicine may be harmful to your child.
  • Read the directions. Check how much to give and how often you can give the medicine. If you are not sure what the dose is, call your child's health care provider.
  • Turn on the lights and measure medicine carefully. Measure the medicine carefully with a syringe, medicine spoon, dropper, or cup. Do not use spoons from your kitchen. They do not measure the medicine accurately.
  • Do not use expired medicines.
  • Do not use someone else's prescription medicine. This could be very harmful for your child.

When to Call the Doctor

Contact the provider if:

  • You believe your child has taken medicine accidentally
  • You are not sure what dose of medicine to give your child

Alternative Names

Medication safety; Poison control - medicine safety


American Academy of Pediatrics: healthy website. Medication safety tips for families. Updated October 21, 2021. Accessed December 14, 2022.

US Food & Drug Administration website. Where and how to dispose of unused medicines. Updated April 21, 2021. Accessed December 14, 2022.

Review Date 10/22/2022

Updated by: Charles I. Schwartz, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, General Pediatrician at PennCare for Kids, Phoenixville, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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