Don’t Trust Childproof Packages

Somehow, lots of kids end up drinking tasty medicines and needing emergency care.

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Parents, we can't presume that the child-resistant bottles used to package children's medicine are childproof — surprisingly, since I have a dickens of a time getting those push-down-and-turn bottles open and have been reduced to gnawing open a blister pack of kiddie Dramamine. In fact, doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have just reported that about 7,000 children are treated for overdoses of cough and cold medications each year, a whopping 66 percent of whom dose themselves. All of the children studied, two thirds of whom were between ages 2 and 5, survived the misadventure, although about one quarter needed activated charcoal to help neutralize the toxic effects of the drug overdose. The findings were posted in the online version of Pediatrics.

"Any medication left in the hands of a 3-year-old is not safe," warns Melissa Schaefer, a physician in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the CDC and the study's lead author. Especially when the contents inside are sweet and fruit-flavored.

Her advice:

  • Keep medicines locked away from kids, even if the drugs have child-resistant packaging.
  • Never tell a child that medicine is candy.
  • Don't let children see you take medicine. They love to imitate grownups.
  • Improved packaging design would help, too; the CDC staffers say companies should consider making it impossible to drink from the bottles or removing the appealing color. But such solutions are years away. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration said that OTC cough and cold medicines shouldn't be given to children under age 2 after pediatricians said the drugs did nothing to alleviate cold symptoms and could be fatal if misdosed. The FDA is now reviewing whether they should be used in children at all.

    Would your family make it though the winter without OTC cough medicine? A recent study found that a spoonful of honey worked just as well at relieving coughs in children. Maybe it's time for us all to try the Pooh Bear approach to cold care.