When you have children at home, it’s important to take care where you store your medicines. Around 1,000 Australian children aged 0–4 years are poisoned by medicines each year , and many of these incidents happen in the home.
Toddlers are at high risk of accidental poisoning [1,2], being at an especially inquisitive age where climbing and exploring the world around them can lead to some tricky (and sticky) situations.[3 4]
However, there are ways of being ‘medicinewise’ and safely storing medicines away from children.
Here are 7 top tips to help you store your medicines safely in the home.
1. Keep all medicines out of sight and reach
Store all medicines (including tablets, capsules, injections, topical creams, drops and liquids) at least 1.5 metres above floor level, preferably in a cupboard secured with a child-proof latch. Putting them in a high place is not enough if they can still be seen.
If medicines need to be stored in a fridge, keep them out of sight in a plastic container with a tightly fitting lid, and avoid storing them in the fridge door.
2. Child-resistant doesn’t mean child-proof
Research has shown that some children are able to open child-resistant containers with hands, and some used their teeth. It is therefore still important to store these medicines out of sight and reach.
3. Be aware of gummy vitamins.
All medicines are potentially harmful to children, including over-the-counter and complementary medicines, such as herbs and vitamins. Vitamins in particular are being manufactured in the shape of gummies and marketed in colourful packets designed to appeal to children.
If you do keep gummy vitamins in the home, be aware that your child could overdose on a product that looks and tastes like a lolly. Parents may be unaware that fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K can accumulate in the body in high doses and become toxic.
As with any other medicines, these products should be stored safely, away from children.
4. Don’t let children see you taking medicines
Poisoning in children also happens with adult medicines, including medicines for anxiety, depression and high blood pressure.
Avoid taking your medicines in front of young children, because they like to copy adults. If you keep medicines in a handbag, put it in a safe place (up high) especially when visiting homes where there are children.
5. Put medicines away every time you use them
Put medicines back in a safe place immediately after use and ensure you replace child-resistant lids properly. Never leave medicines out on a table, countertop or bedside table.
Store your medicines in the original child-resistant containers (if you have them), and keep all medicines in a safe place out of reach of children.
6. Dispose of expired or unused medicines
Take any unused and out-of-date medicines to a pharmacy for free and safe disposal. Don’t place them in your household garbage or flush them down the sink or toilet. It’s not only potentially dangerous for children, but it’s bad for the environment.
The Return Unwanted Medicines (the RUM Project) is a free Australia-wide service that provides helpful tips for disposing of unwanted medicines. As part of the project, local pharmacies collect out-of-date, unwanted or leftover medicines and arrange for them to be safely disposed of.
7. Travelling with your medicines
Ask your hosts where you can safely store your medicines and vitamins, and remind others to keep their purses, bags, and coats that have medicines out of the sight and reach of children.
Get help immediately if poisoning has occurred
If you suspect that a child has taken a medicine not intended for them, immediately ring the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (anytime 24 hours a day 7 days a week).
This blog post is sponsored by NPS MedicineWise
Our families matter – that’s why it’s important to make safe and wise decisions about medicines and health. For more information visit www.nps.org.au
1. AIHW, Pointer S. Poisoning in children and young people 2012–13. Canberra, Australia, 2016 (accessed 9 August 2018).
2. AIHW, Pointer S. Hospitalised injury in children and young people 2011–12. Canberra, Australia: AIHW, 2014 (accessed 13 August 2018).
3. Schmertmann M, Willamson A, Black D. Unintentional poisoning in young children: does developmental stage predict the type of substance accessed and ingested? Child Care Health Dev 2014;40:50-9.
4. Rosenberg M, Wood L, Leeds M, et al. ‘But they can’t reach that high…’: parental perceptions and knowledge relating to childhood poisoning. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2011;22:217–22.
5. Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia. A Parent’s Guide to Kidsafe Homes. 2016.
6. Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Parents warned to be careful of vitamin marketing targeting kids. Sydney, Australia: RACP, 2014.
7. Bell C, Bentley J, Downie C, et al. Accidental pharmacological poisonings in young children: population-based study in three settings. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 2018;56:782–9.
8. Slavin D. Store medicines safely while travelling. US Food & Drug Administration, 2012.