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Accidental Poisonings Are an Increasing Danger to Children

Updated: Feb 14

Learn what you can do to keep kids safe.

National Poison Prevention Week (NPPW) has been observed every third week in March since it was established in 1961 by Congress to raise awareness of poison prevention and safety while promoting the national Poison Help Hotline (1-800-222-1222). Poisoning is the main cause of unintentional death in the United States. Drug overdoses, caused by pharmaceutical and illicit drugs, are the leading cause of poisoning. Even pets can fall victim to drug poisoning.

From babies to teens, youth are especially vulnerable to accidental drug poisoning, leading to injury and even death. Between 2018 and 2020, the top fatalities and injuries for kids 5 and under were caused by narcotics, hallucinogens, and psychotropic drugs. 79% of the total 61,5000 child poisonings reported between 2018-2020 happened at home. Learn more about the potential dangers that your children face when exposed to various toxic substances and how you can do your part to protect them for NPPW 2023.

Opioids are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in young children. Since the mid-2000s, opioid-linked deaths in U.S. children have nearly doubled. Over half the deaths in 1-year-olds (61%) and children aged 2 to 5 (54%) were due to opioid poisoning, as were a third of deaths in infants (34%). Most poisonings involving amphetamines (81%) and cocaine (84%) occurred in infants under 1.

Safely storing medication and illicit drugs to keep children and infants away from them is critical to poison prevention and safety. Since young children cannot tell the difference between a deadly substance and a harmless one, the best way to protect them is to prevent them from gaining access in the first place. Kids like to explore, and children under 1 are especially prone to putting found items like dropped medications or pills in their mouths. It only takes a split second for a poisoning to happen. In fact, 28.5% of child poisoning deaths between 2005 and 2018 occurred in view of a parent or guardian. You can secure them with blister packs, which are available at pharmacies and online. You can also purchase a lock box to store all substances in.

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the U.S., with underage drinking posing a significant public health problem in America. Teens are more susceptible to alcohol dependency since their brains and other organs are still developing. In turn, this makes them more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning. 5% of all alcohol poisoning deaths happen to people aged 15–24, with around 2,200 total alcohol poisoning deaths occurring in the U.S. annually. Alcohol can also be a seriously dangerous poison for your infants and young children. Most alcohol poisonings (61.5%) occur in infants under age 1.

Children and teens who drink alcohol can act drunk like adults. They might stagger when they walk, speak without making sense, or seem sleepy. They may vomit, experience slowed breathing and heart rate, pass out, and even die.

Protect your children and teens from alcohol poisoning by locking up alcoholic beverages. Pour out beer cans, wine glasses, and drink glasses before children can get to them. For children ages five and under, store your mouthwash and alcohol-containing cosmetics well out of reach. You can also pick up free liquor stickers in select Norwalk stores thanks to The Norwalk Partnership’s Liquor Sticker campaign. These stickers allow you to seal and date any unfinished alcohol in order to prevent underage drinking.

With the recent legalization of cannabis in CT, poison control has seen a spike in children exposed to cannabis. Over 200 cases of children ingesting weed in the form of edibles like gummies have been reported to the CT Poison Control Center since 2020. More patients are expected if cannabis legalization has the same effect in Connecticut as in other states. U.S. Poison Control Centers report legal cannabis has led to over 7,000 cases of children ages 6 and under accidentally consuming cannabis in the form of edibles between 2017 and 2021. Half of these children were 2 to 3 years old.

Candy and treats with colorful packaging containing high doses of THC (the psychedelic active ingredient in marijuana) target children. Younger children who aren’t able to read labels are most susceptible to cannabis edibles that aren’t locked away properly and appear like familiar snacks and candies. Some retail locations in CT sell these products illegally, leading to a recent crackdown in the state. These products pose a risk of poisoning, overdose, and even death.

Consumption of cannabis edibles can cause drowsiness, lethargy, breathing problems, fast heart rate, and vomiting. Almost 2% of children experienced severe central nervous system symptoms, including coma, in reported cases between 2017 and 2021. How sick a child gets depends on the THC dosage. 90% of children obtained edibles in their homes. Lock up all cannabis and cannabis products to prevent children from accessing it in your home.

Fentanyl fatalities among children under 14 are rising faster than any other age group. Infant fentanyl deaths increased twice as fast between 2019 and 2021. Fentanyl deaths among toddlers between 1 and 4 more than tripled. The deaths among children between 5 and 14 nearly quadrupled. In CT, there have been eight infant and toddler fentanyl deaths since 2020.

As more parents use fentanyl, more children, particularly those under 5, are at risk of being poisoned. Fentanyl is so lethal that even a tiny amount of residue left on a table or someone’s hands can kill a small child quickly if first responders do not recognize the signs. Lethargy, a slowed down heart rate and breathing, and passing out can all indicate fentanyl poisoning, with trace amounts of it leading to overdose in children.

Fentanyl can be packaged with other drugs in a way that looks like candy. This can entice young children, who cannot tell if the substance is toxic. Children, especially infants and toddlers, are more likely to lick their fingers or put their hands in their mouths after touching a surface contaminated with fentanyl. As with other substances, locking up your fentanyl and other drugs that contain fentanyl plays a critical role in preventing drug poisoning in children.

Every 3 hours, a poison control center receives a call about a child exposed to an e-cigarette or liquid nicotine. With e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, and vape pens becoming more popular, a rise in exposure to young children has followed. Even a small amount of liquid nicotine can be deadly to a child.

Liquid nicotine poisoning happens in two ways: when children swallow it or when they absorb it through the skin. Since children younger than 3 account for most liquid nicotine exposures, storing e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine products out of reach is crucial. Products should be used and refilled alone, never in the presence of your children. Using e-cigarettes and refilling them with children nearby could lead to dangerous exposure and increase the chance of children trying to imitate you using your liquid nicotine product.

Exposure to liquid nicotine can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and seizures. Children exposed to liquid nicotine are 5x more likely to be admitted to the hospital and 2.5x more likely to have a severe medical outcome than children exposed to traditional cigarettes. Parents and caregivers can keep children safe by locking up their e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine refill products. Do not store liquid nicotine in your bag or purse, as children may easily access it.

Keep prescription medications in the original containers, which typically have child-resistant lids to prevent young children from taking any medications. Original containers also have labels that will help prevent anyone from taking the wrong medication by accident and allow you to keep track of any missing pills.

Lock up your alcohol, substances, and medications to prevent guests, adolescents, children, and pets from gaining access. You can use lock bags, safes, or lock boxes to store these items properly.

Properly Dispose of Unused/Unwanted Medications

Don’t save leftover medication. Use Regional Medication Drop Boxes or Deterra Bags to properly dispose of unused or expired medicine you no longer need. Deterra is a non-toxic solution that completely destroys drugs and medications at home, helping prevent drug misuse. Order free Deterra Bags from The Hub.

What to Do If You Suspect Accidental Ingestion

If you suspect accidental ingestion of a poisonous substance and the person or child is entirely unresponsive, seek immediate medical care by calling 911 or your local emergency number.

You can call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately for free, expert, and confidential help. Or you can text POISON to 202-677-7600. Save the poison control number and the link to online help in your computer and smartphone contacts today.

If you suspect your pet has consumed something toxic, call the 24-hour ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at (888) 426-4435.

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