Preventing Accidental Overdose: How to Safely Administer Medications to Kids

medication safety

As many parents can probably attest, giving medications to kids can be challenging.

For some kids, the medication is yucky and they refuse to take it. From the parent perspective, giving the proper dose can be tricky, especially when it’s 2 a.m. and .5 ml looks like 5 ml (a teaspoon) in the dark.

But turning the lights on and taking a moment to accurately measure the proper amount of medication for your child in the appropriate dosage device could prevent a potential overdose. In one study the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 41% of parents made a dosage error when administering medications to their children.

At the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center, we receive many calls about drug overdose related to improper measuring every day. It typically happens when caregivers don’t read the directions before giving the dose or when an improper dosing device is used. Sometimes parents leave the medicine within reach of the child after giving a dose and the child can get into it, or mom and dad both give a dose within minutes of each other.

So the following tips are what I recommend parents do at home to help prevent accidental drug overdose in kids. We also have a video that demonstrates how to accurately measure medications at this link.

  1. Use the measuring device that came with the medication. I like to keep the original box that the medication came in, that way I can keep the measuring device right there with the medication and it won’t get lost or tossed in the trash can. Keep track of the doses with a marker directly on the bottle, or yes there are apps for that, such as pill monitor, dosecast and pill alert.
  2. Re-read the label each time. It’s important to re-read the label each time so that you dispense the medication as instructed. This may sound obvious, but at 2 a.m. it can be tempting to go by memory to save time. Be sure to turn your lights on, too.
  3. Don’t allow your child to drink directly from the bottle. Even if it is an over-the-counter medication or a natural remedy, it is still important to measure accurately.
  4. Do not use just any spoon. Spoons come in many different sizes and it’s just too easy to measure inaccurately.
  5. Use caution with flavored medications. Some manufacturers offer a variety of tasty flavors of medication, including chocolate. While this may be helpful for those times when you want your child to take medication, children may be tempted to get into those medications on their own and an accidental overdose could occur.
  6. Do not call medicine “candy.” It can be tempting to make the medicine sound appealing to your child, but at the same time, you don’t want him to be incentivized to take an extra dose when he’s not supposed to.
  7. Keep all drugs out of the reach of children, or better yet, locked. Parents are busy and it can be difficult to remember to give your child her medication when you have a lot of other things going on. I recommend setting an alarm on your phone, rather than leaving it on the counter in plain sight (or your child’s reach) so that you’ll remember.
  8. Know your child’s weight. Pediatric medications are typically dosed based on your child’s weight. It is important for you to know exactly how much your child weighs, especially if you are figuring out the dose of an over the counter medication. If you are not sure how much your child weighs, be sure to put them on an accurate scale prior to giving them medication. Remember, the dosage may be different for each child, depending on their weight.

I suggest that parents put the Drug and Poison Information Center number 1-800-222-1222 in their cell phones and near every home phone for emergency situations. You can also scan the QR code below and the poison control number will be programmed automatically into your cell phone or mobile device.
If you think you might have given your child an improper dose of a medication or even if you are confused about how to measure or give your child’s dose, give us a call. We are here 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, to answer your drug dosage questions.

Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

About the Author: Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT

Sheila Goertemoeller PharmD, DABAT, ICPS is a pharmacist and clinical toxicologist with 22 years of experience at the Drug and Poison Information Center Hotline at Cincinnati Children’s.

Write a comment

Your data will be safe! Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person. Required fields marked as *

Comments

  1. Dave Donovan February 25, 10:51
    Couldn't pharmaceutical manufacturers mark the dispensing markers/droppers in ways like this: draw a bar and under it indicate something like, "typical dose for 10 to 20 lb. patient." Under that a second line labeled something like, "typical dose for a 21-35 lb. patient." This would provide a secondary safeguard. If necessary for adequate sized print the dropper could be made with a larger surface to accommodate extra printing and bottles could be made with slightly larger openings to fit the larger droppers.
    • Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT
      Sheila Goertemoeller, PharmD, D.ABAT Author March 17, 11:43
      Hi Dave, Thank you for your comment. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) focuses specifically on the prevention of medication errors. Every other month they publish a ISMP newsletter that teaches consumers to become active partners with their healthcare providers and assume a leading role in ensuring safe medication use. Consumers interested in more information on taking their medications safely and preventing errors can access the Institute’s consumer website. You may contact them at http://www.ismp.org/contact.aspx?name= with your suggestion.