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OTC drugs identified as leading cause of child poisoning

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Over-the-counter medicines are the leading cause of A&E visits for childhood poisoning, suggests US research.

Findings show childhood poisonings from OTC medications occur at more than twice the rate of poisonings from consumer products, and account for more than two-thirds of all emergency department visits for childhood poisoning.

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysed data on paediatric emergency visits over a period of two years.

Daniel Budnitz, the senior study author, said: ‘Unsupervised medication ingestions caused over 80% of the emergency department visits. These emergency department visits are 10 times more common than overdoses from medication errors by a parent or caregiver.’   

Unsupervised medication ingestion occurred mainly among toddlers – commonly ingesting acetaminophen, cough and cold medicines and antidepressants.

He added: ‘CDC is working with over the counter drug manufacturers to encourage the implementation of passive safety innovations. If you want to prevent an injury, it helps to make it so people don’t have to constantly remember to do something, like correctly reapplying child-resistant caps after each use.’

‘I make the analogy to airbags in cars. Airbags are a great safety innovation, in part because you don’t need to remember to turn them on.

‘We could try a similar approach to prevent child ingestions and incorporate passive safety innovations in medication packaging, such as flow restrictors, which prevent children from drinking directly from the medication bottle even when the cap is off, or unit-dose packaging,’ he said.

The study findings are due to be published next month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


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