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12,000 Kids Are Poisoned Each Year by This Prescription Medication

Photograph by Twenty20

We already know that there's a huge disconnect between what parents know about storing medications up and away where children can't see or reach them, versus where they actually keep medications, according to a safe medicine storage survey from Safe Kids Worldwide. In fact, 9 out of 10 parents surveyed say they knew where they should keep medication so their kids couldn't get into it, but 7 out of 10 parents admitted they don't actually follow through with those rules in their own homes.

Now we also know that there can be very serious consequences when kids get into medication. For every 100,000 kids, there are more than 14 who are accidentally exposed to opiates, and the most common place it happens is in your own home. While younger children often take medications by accident, teenagers are more likely to purposely take or abuse prescription opioids that are not prescribed to them.

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The CDC reviewed data from poison control centers collected between 2000 and 2015 and specifically looked into a variety of opioid medications—including common prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, tramadol, codeine and others. Aside from other available stats on accidental-poisoning deaths, the poison control records also tracked the number of children who took medication not intended for them, but did not go to a hospital for treatment.

Between 2000 and 2015, poison control centers received an average of more than 30 calls per day about children under the age of 20 accidentally poisoned by overdoses of prescription painkillers known as opioid drugs. Buprenorphine, a drug usually prescribed for adults to help treat opioid addiction, was particularly a risk for smaller children; 90 percent of cases where children were poisoned by the drug were under the age of 5.

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Opioid overdoses have hit a record high in the U.S., according to the CDC, and unintentional poisoning is now the leading cause of injury-related death. In 2014, there were more than 32,000 people who died in road accidents, but more than 47,000 people died from opioid drug overdoses; that's 32 percent higher than road accident deaths.

In 2016, the CDC urged doctors to avoid prescribing opioid medications for patients with chronic pain because the risks (such as addiction) far outweigh the benefits. Accidental child poisonings are a kind of collateral damage and just another risk parents need to be aware of when they're taking prescription painkillers.

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