How to Store Medicine More Safely

Storing medicines safely seems like a “no-duh,” I know, but it often isn’t…little mistakes here can have big consequences. Safe medication storage is an especially important topic in the summer when children are in their homes during more of the day and sometimes curiously exploring the house. Routines are shaken up and fortunately there’s more travel in the summer (yippeee!) which consequently leads to medicine in purses and travel bags, grandparents coming to visit (with their own medication), or families traveling to other homes where medicines might not be stored safely. This is not meant to be finger-waggy….I’ve just seen too many “if only I’d thought of that” moments after unintended medicine ingestion.

Do 2 things today quickly perhaps — make sure meds are up and out of reach in your own home and car (in a locked cabinet if toddlers around) AND have a designated place for summer guests to store their meds. This won’t take too long.

Check out the Know Your OTC Safety Infographic (here on the left) for data support: children mainly discover household medications when misplaced or on the ground (27% of the time), in a purse (20%), on the nightstand (20%), or in the pillbox that’s in arm’s reach (15%). Who’s coming to your house this summer that may mess this up? Can you make a place to put those lovely purses and beach bags when people walk in that’s up and out of reach? A hook reserved for guests only?

What You Need to Know About Safely Storing Medicine

  • 60,000 children are seen in the ER because of accidental medicine ingestion, that’s 4 busloads of kids per day. I’ve taken care of a handful of children who’ve ingested family medications, antibiotics, OTC allergy medications, eye drops, and pain relievers. Safe medication storage really can change a child’s life! Sometimes, of course, children ingest all of their own medicine, too. Saw this happen just a couple weeks ago while on vacation.
  • Medications have to be up and out of reach. You can’t trust that a toddler or young child will comply with “no touching.” It just doesn’t work to put this in a child’s control no matter how “rule abiding” a child is. No question that curiosity for something sweet or novel or new or disguised will dominate and lead a child to act like a child and explore.
  • Safe storage means not just OTC meds or prescription meds (pills, oral liquid meds) but also eye drops, ear drops, nasal sprays, medicated creams and ointments. It’s easy to forget those items. About 4 out of 5 children who end up in the ER for a medication overdose or ingestion are there because of an unsupervised medicine ingestion. That means ER staff, nurses, docs, and parents are required to do the complex sleuthing to figure out just what went down the hatch (not always easy)! When in times of transition or times when you know you’ll be distracted (working from home, Instagram is amazing, yes and steals my attention too) can you ensure that places your child has access to never include an unlocked cabinet, side table, bag or pillbox in arm’s reach? I’ve taken care of children after they have ingested medications who literally had to climb up on the cabinets to get to the meds in an unlocked cabinet.
  • FDA changes and ongoing work to get unnecessary meds out of people’s home have helped but there’s clearly still room to improve. Those toddlers and preschoolers that we especially worry about when it comes to ingestions are having less ingestions of OTC cough and cold medicines; 2013 data comparing ingestions of cough and cold meds between 2007 and 2010 when labeling changed found that in children 12 years and under there was a 33% decline in unintentional ingestions.
  • If there is EVER an ingestion of medications in your home accidentally don’t forget you can call poison control for support and help immediately 1-800-222-1222. Put that number in your phone.

Up and out of reach, yes. But also don’t forget all the other spaces and places our children will roam this summer (if we let them) and make sure there’s plenty of layers of protection there, too.

5-13 know your OTCs

This post was written in partnership with In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs # KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.