About medicines that can poison children
Almost all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines can be poisonous to children if children take too much or the medicines are used incorrectly.
If you think a child in your care has been poisoned with medicine, stay calm. Gather what’s left of the medicine, take it or its packaging and the child to the phone, and immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear – call straight away. Don’t treat the poisoning until you’ve had advice from the Poisons Information Centre.
Storing medicines safely
Poisoning often happens when medicines are left where children can get them.
It’s essential to store medicines up high in a locked cupboard. If possible, the cupboard should be at least 1.5 m high and have child-resistant locks. And when you need to use a medicine, put it back in the cupboard immediately after use. Never leave medicines where children can get them.
Here are more tips for storing medicines safely:
- Leave all medicines in their original containers.
- Ask your pharmacist to put child-resistant caps on your medicines if they’re not already on the bottle. But remember that child-resistant caps are not child proof. You still need to store these medicines up high in a locked cupboard.
- Make sure you always put caps back on the bottles correctly and immediately after use.
- Clean out your medicine cupboard regularly. Return unwanted and out-of-date medicines to your local pharmacist for safe disposal.
- Keep any measuring cups and droppers used for medicine separate and safe.
- Rinse empty medicine containers with water before you discard or recycle them.
Preventing medicine poisoning
These safety precautions can help you keep your child safe from medicine poisoning:
- If your child needs to take medicine, read the label, dosage and instructions carefully. Double-check everything before you give your child the medicine.
- If someone else regularly gives your child medicine, set up a ‘checking system’ to avoid giving your child double doses of medicine. Write down the time and dose each time you give your child their medicine. Keep this information with the medicine.
- When you’re giving medicine to your child, take care that other children can’t reach the medicine.
- If you’re not sure about how much medicine to give or for how long, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Avoid distractions when giving your child medicines. If possible, have a routine for giving or taking medicines. And always supervise while your child is taking medicine.
- Refer to medicines by their proper names. This is better than calling them ‘special lollies’, which can confuse your child and tempt your child to try them.
- Keep bags away from your child’s reach and ask visitors to do the same, because bags can contain medicine.
- Take care when visiting older people. They might not be used to having children around and might leave medicine within easy reach. Check to make sure your child can’t get to their medicines.
Some common medicines that can harm and even kill your child are:
- antiseizure medicine
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medicines, like methylphenidate
- cold and flu medicines
- diabetes medicines
- essential oils like eucalyptus and tea tree oil
- gout and arthritis medicines
- heart and blood pressure medicines
- iron tablets
- morphine and other strong painkillers
- nicotine patches and other quit smoking treatments
- sleeping tablets.