Dangers in Your Medicine Cabinet

Child resistant caps. Medicines stored on a high shelf. Surely, your children are safe from an accidental overdose … right? While most parents believe they are taking every precaution to keep their children safe, when it comes to medication, chances are you may not be doing enough. 

All it takes is a moment…

A child is rushed to the hospital every ten minutes after getting into medicines – that’s 52,000 children per year!1 In many of these homes, parents had taken steps to keep medications out of their curious kids’ hands while in others, they felt simply keeping a close watch was enough. 

But as all parents know, sometimes kids just surprise you with their developing skills, and you can’t possibly keep your eye on inquisitive little ones every second. And all it takes is a moment. Even “child resistant” caps are not enough; the caps are designed to slow down prying fingers but should never be considered “child proof.”2 So, what is a protective parent to do? 

Out of sight, out of reach

You can’t bubble wrap your kids to keep them safe, but whether you have curious toddlers or experimenting teens, you can take reasonable steps to help ensure dangerous medications are not accessible.

  1. Aim high. Store all medicine out of children's reach such as in a high cabinet. If you keep any medication in your purse, be sure to keep that out of reach as well.
  2. Lock it up. Consider storing prescription medicines in a locked box or medicine cabinet. 
  3. Dispose of medications. Your pharmacist or local police station can advise you on how to safely dispose of expired or unused medications.  
  4. Think like a child. Take care with any medicine that could be confused as food or candy, including cannabis edibles, gummy vitamins, colorful pills, etc. 
  5. Don’t forget about visitors. Stash visitors purses, bags and coats out of reach.
  6. Put it away. Tighten caps and put medicine away immediately after each use.

Educate your kids

It’s hard to reason with a two-year-old with the climbing skills of a pint-sized Spiderman, but talking to your kids early and often about the dangers of medications may be the key to keeping them safe.3 Be sure to include over the counter (OTC) medications including vitamins and supplements in the conversation – just because something is colorful, gummy or in the shape of their favorite cartoon character does not mean it is safe. 

Your kids should know that they are never to touch or taste any medication that has not been handed to them by you. As they grow, you can expand the conversation beyond safety of medications in the home to include the dangers of abusing prescription, OTC and illegal drugs.

Use medications safely

Accidental ingestion isn’t the only danger when it comes to medications in the home. The products you choose and how you dispense them are vital in ensuring your children’s health and safety.

Let’s use acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) as an example. One of the most common OTC medicines parents provide to their children, it is also one of the most overdosed. Why? Let’s say you buy liquid acetaminophen in concentrated drops for infants. You use the provided dropper to give the recommended dosage to your 6-month-old, but your six-year-old also has a fever, and since she is bigger and older, you give her a spoonful. 

It’s a common scenario, but different formulas, strengths, and dosage instructions for different ages makes it a dangerous one. In this case, the six-year-old received far too much of highly-concentrated acetaminophen. Acetaminophen can be safe and effective when you follow the directions on the package, but too much can cause nausea and vomiting and even liver failure or death.4

  • Give the right medicine. Not all medicines are right for an infant and a child. Just because a formula is intended for an infant does not mean it is less potent – the opposite may in fact be true. 
  • Check the ingredients. If you’re treating symptoms of an illness with two medicines (such as a fever reducer and cold medication), both could have the same active ingredient. 
  • Read the label every time. Be sure you clearly understand how much to give and how often.
  • Never use more than directed. Follow dosing instructions exactly. 
  • Use a dosing tool. Always use a measuring tool such as a dropper or a dosing cup, not a spoon. 
  • Tbsp. vs. tsp. A tablespoon (tbsp.) is three times greater than a teaspoon (tsp.) Double check the dosing instructions to ensure you know whether to dispense a teaspoon or tablespoon. Kitchen spoons, while frequently referred to as “teaspoons” and “tablespoons,” may in fact hold incorrect amounts and should not be used. 
  • Know your child’s weight. Some medicines are based on weight. If a dose is not listed for your child’s age or weight, don’t guess – call your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Check the medicine. Check the label to be sure you have the right medicine and check the expiration date to ensure it is still effective.
  • Talk to your pharmacist. If you are unsure how to use a medication, talk to your pharmacist.5,6,7,8

Be prepared 

You can be the most over-protective helicopter parent in the world, and kids will still find a way to get into mischief. All you can do is take precautions and be prepared in case of emergency. Start by talking to your pharmacist about any questions you may have about the prescriptions, OTC medications, and vitamins/supplements you and your children take so that you fully understand the benefits and risks. Then save the Poison Control help number (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and keep it posted in your home.9 You may never need it, but you will be so glad you have it close it hand if you ever do.

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice.  You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.


  1. CNN: “Some parents overlook dangers of medicines, sending thousands of children to ER”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  2. CBS This Morning: “Kids can open child-resistant pill bottles in seconds, risk accidental poisoning”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  3. Nurse.com: “Report: Child-proof drug packaging does not halt accidental poisoning”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  4. FDA: “Reducing Fever in Children: Safe Use of Acetaminophen”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019.
  5. CDC: “Tips For Parents about the safe use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019.
  6. FDA: “Kids Aren't Just Small Adults -- Medicines, Children, and the Care Every Child Deserves”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  7. FDA: “Ten Tips to Prevent an Accidental Overdose”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  8. Consumer Reports: “Protect Kids From Accidental Drug Overdoses”. Last accessed: March 14, 2019
  9. Poison Control: “Poisoned? Two ways to get expert help.” Last accessed: March 14, 2019.
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