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What Grandparents Need to Know About Medication Safety

Because Child-Resistant is Not Childproof

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It is the responsibility of grandparents to be vigilant about medication safety.

Grandparents' medication poses a significant risk to grandchildren.

Photo © David McGlynn / Getty Images

Over one-third of medication poisonings in children involve a grandparent’s medicine. This statistic is due to a number of factors. First, older people are more likely to take medications, both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription. Second, older people sometimes keep their medication in containers that are not child-resistant. Third, older people are more likely to keep their medication in plain sight, in order to remember to take it. While nothing can be done about the first factor, much can be done about the other two, resulting in a significant increase in medication safety.

The Importance of Child-Resistant Packaging

Grandparents should use child-resistant packaging. Sometimes they request non-child-resistant packaging because they have arthritis or other conditions that make opening the child-resistant vials difficult. In the absence of a serious condition, grandparents should take time to learn to use child-resistant packages, including learning to close them properly as well as to open them. One of my OTC medications kept getting spilled in my purse. I figured out that when closing the bottle, I wasn’t turning it far enough to make the little tabs pop into place.

Grandparents who use the pill minder boxes to organize their medications should purchase the child resistant type. These typically have a button that must be pushed as you flip up the lid of the compartment.

Child-Resistant, Not Child-Safe

Even if they are using the proper containers, grandparents must not be complacent about the safety of their medications. In order to be labeled as child-resistant, 85% of the children in the trial must have been unable to open the package within five minutes. Obviously this means that a packaging can be labeled child-resistant if 15% of children could open the package within five minutes. Although child-resistant packaging has undoubtedly saved many lives, it is not a complete solution to the problem of childhood poisonings.

Stowing Medication Safely

The real solution is that medication needs to be kept away from grandchildren. Grandparents who are in the habit of keeping medication on the kitchen table or bathroom counter or other easily accessible spot should consider purchasing a small lockbox to keep it secure.

Grandmothers who keep their medications in their purses should develop the habit of keeping their purses out of reach. They might use the top of a refrigerator or china cabinet or a shelf in a closet. In all cases, they should beware of places where other furniture or boxes could provide access. They should establish the habit of similarly placing their purses in an inaccessible spot when visiting their children’s homes. Placing purses that contain medication on the floor is especially dangerous. Another danger is keeping medication in suitcases when visiting, as suitcases are typically left on the floor or on a low piece of furniture.

Prevention, Not Treatment

Even if the proper precautions are taken, children require constant supervision. Toddler grandhildren aged 1 to 3 are at greatest danger of accidental poisoning because they will put almost anything in their mouths. As soon as children are old enough to understand, they should be warned never to take someone else’s medication. Grandparents can take part in this aspect of their grandchildren’s education. Another danger arises at a later date. Older grandchildren and other family members may steal drugs from grandparents, especially if the grandparents have prescription pain killers. As horrifying as it may sound, some grandparents are accidental suppliers for family members with substance abuse problems.

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