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Poison Alert for Parents and Grandparents during Covid

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, families live in close quarters, day in and day out. Grandparents have been enlisted to care for their young and school-age grandchildren all day or night if their parents are essential workers. Children are under foot and into everything. What can these conditions lead to?

A February, 2020 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that more than half the poison cases in American children under age 5 are poisoned by prescription pills they find and eat! Parents and grandparents often take these pills out of their original, child-resistant packaging, making it easy for curious children to discover. In fact, there are 50,000 emergency room visits each year involving children who swallow dangerous pills when adults don’t see them. Adults tend to place pills in easy to open containers, baggies, or daily pill organizers and leave them on kitchen counters or bedroom night tables. They might also drop or spill pills and fail to find them all.

This is not a new phenomenon. The Poison Prevention Packaging Act was passed in 1970 to cope with this dilemma, and childhood deaths from accidental medication poisoning dramatically decreased. In the 2000s, however, prescription use in the U.S. greatly increased due to the rise of statins, antidepressants, asthma, diabetes, and opioid medications.

It is not possible to watch children every minute of the day. Here are some practical recommendations for parents and grandparents to follow:

  1. Keep medications in child resistant packaging.
  2. Make sure to close the container after opening.
  3. Keep pills out of sight and out of reach!
  4. Make certain medication is not left in clothing pockets or purses.
  5. If medication is spilled or dropped, vacuum the entire area.

It’s a good idea to keep the CDC Poison Control Hotline Number on your cell phone:  800 – 222 – 1222. Don’t hesitate to call if you think your child/grandchild may have ingested any medication. Look at each room from a young child’s point of view and place anything potentially dangerous out of sight and reach. We are living in a very challenging time. Vigilance and extra care will help to keep our young ones healthy.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at


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