Safety tips: Three ways to help prevent accidental ingestion of prescription medicines

Have you ever dropped a pill on the floor, and then LOST it?  
Last week, as I opened my pillbox and turned it over to get the pills out, one of them bounced right out of my hand and fell on the kitchen floor. I thought I saw it land somewhere to my left, so I looked over in that direction, but I couldn’t see it.  
Getting down on my hands and knees, I crawled around where I thought it would have landed or bounced. After 10 minutes of fruitless searching, I had to admit that my vitamin D pill was truly gone.
Unfortunately, small children and pets can find these “lost” pills on the floor. When your family is together for the holidays, are your children, grandchildren, and pets safe from accidentally ingesting a potentially dangerous dose of prescription medicine?
Many Americans take at least one prescription medicine. One survey done in 2008-2009 reported that 9 out of every 10 Americans reported taking at least 1 prescription medicine within the previous month. 31% of all Americans reported taking at least 2 prescription medicines, and 11% took 5 or more prescriptions every day.
Unfortunately, it only takes 1 or 2 pills to trigger a tragedy. Most pain and heart medicines are designed for full-size adults, not inquisitive toddlers or small pets. Whether they discover them on the floor or in a pill bottle sitting on a table, little children and powerful pills don't mix well.
With COVID, many families are putting off in-person visiting. Still, some families already see each other regularly and plan to visit anyway. Is your house safe enough for little ones?
Here are 3 ways to help prevent accidental ingestion of prescription medicines:
1. Put pillboxes away when small children visit.
I like pillboxes for their convenience and ability to help us remember whether we have taken our medicines. Many of us keep them in plain sight to remind us to take our pills, but they can be easily opened.
For toddlers who are curious and quick, a pillbox can create an irresistible challenge, and one without a happy ending. Moving them out of reach or locking them up is more effective than keeping track of grandchildren when they are visiting.
2. Remove all medicine bottles to safer locations, especially ones with “easy-open” tops.
Child-resistant tops have saved many lives, but they are a hassle to open, especially if your grip strength is not what it used to be or you have arthritis.
Every prescription medicine refill comes with a brand-new bottle and lid. This ensures that the child-resistant top doesn't become worn enough to become too easy to open.
Dispensing prescriptions with child-resistant lids is strongly encouraged; if you don't want them, you must request easy-open tops instead.
Many older adults modify the lid on a medicine vial or household chemical bottle to make it easier to open and close. When patients bring in all of their medicines to review, I often see prescription bottles with newer labels but much older lids. These lids have been transferred from one refill to the next just because they are easy to use. Other prescription vials have tops that are barely attached.
Child-resistant lids on medicines and household chemicals are designed to slow children down long enough to be discovered before they ingest their contents. My late mother-in-law saw nothing wrong with “recycling” her old pill bottles with child-resistant tops into the toy box for her grandchildren to play with. As a young pharmacist and new parent, I’d sort through the toy box to gather up those pill bottles before letting my daughter Maureen play.
3. Lock up or carefully dispose of pain pills and patches.
Locking away pain medicine, especially narcotic or opioid medication like Vicodin® or oxycodone can prevent tragedy. Teenagers report getting narcotic pain pills from family and friends' medicine cabinets.
Medicines designed for adults weighing over 150 pounds are hazardous to a 30-pound child or pet finding them on the floor or in a trashcan. Nearly everything picked up by a toddler or puppy seems to end up in their mouth. It doesn’t take much of a powerful narcotic swallowed or sucked out to trigger a tragedy.
Vacuuming floors where you may have dropped a pill and sealing up used patches by folding them together before disposal can help ensure a safe holiday season. When used patches contain narcotics or opioids like fentanyl, the FDA recommends flushing them instead of leaving them in your trash.
Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy, is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Check out her NEW website for daily tips on how to take your medicine safely. 2020 Louise Achey

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