- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

About 53,500 U.S. toddlers are treated annually in emergency rooms after inadvertent exposure to prescription and over-the-counter medications found in the home, a federal study has found.

The analysis by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that nearly three-fourths of these nonfatal — but often serious — cases between 2001 and 2003 occurred in 1-to-2-year-old children. They typically occurred when medicines intended for another family member were not stored properly.

Children 4 years old and younger “can reach items on a table, in a purse or in a drawer where medications are often stored; young children also tend to put objects they find in their mouths,” the researchers said in a report in this week’s issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, released yesterday.

Exposure to over-the-counter medication was slightly more frequent than prescription drugs (42 percent versus 39 percent), the study said. Drugs such as acetaminophen and antidepressants were most often unintentionally taken by young children (27 percent), followed by cough and cold medicine or anti-asthma treatments (11.6 percent), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents or muscle relaxants (8.4 percent). The study’s list also included aspirin, vitamins and antihistamines.

“Some of these agents can be highly toxic, and ingestion by young children can lead to death,” according to an editorial note attached to the report.

The report found that nearly 10 percent of the 53,517 children ages 4 and younger who were sickened by unintentional exposure to medication and treated in emergency rooms were admitted to the hospital or transferred for specialized care.

The editorial note further pointed out that the percentage of young children requiring a higher level of treatment after medication poisonings is nearly four times higher than that of youngsters in the same age group treated for all unintentional causes of injury.

Drugs most commonly identified as being involved in such higher-level care were anticonvulsant agents, calcium-channel-blocking agents used to treat high blood pressure, antidepressants, mood-stabilizing drugs and pills to prevent hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

Researchers discovered that 35 children 4 and younger had died in 2002 after unintentional medication exposure. They also determined that 1,500 emergency room visits and 150 hospital admissions occurred for each of those fatalities, said Dr. Dan Budnitz of the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion and an author of the report.

The report credits child-resistant packaging, required by the Poison Prevention Act of 1970, for reducing prescription medication deaths in young children by 45 percent between 1974 and 1992.

Despite this progress, “unintentional medication exposure remains a serious threat to the health of young children,” the authors write.

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