A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

7 ways medication errors occur with kids


Attention parents: Are you mindful of medications your children may be taking or given?

Medication errors occur every eight minutes in U.S. kids.

An average of 63,358 U.S. children experienced a medication error each year between 2002 and 2012, according to a recent study. Researchers looked at the number of calls made to the National Poison Database System for reported medication errors involving children younger than age 6.

Dr. James Meyer, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, said about 95 percent of those cases could be evaluated over the phone. Only a small percentage of those children were admitted to a hospital, although 25 deaths were attributed to medication errors.

Common reasons for medication errors at home were:

  • Double-dosing, usually because a parent forgot to tell the other parent he gave a dose or didn’t remember giving it.
  • Children getting into parents’ or grandparents’ pill bottles, sometimes left open because the bottle is hard to open.
  • Daily pill dispensers with no locks, containing colorful pills a child mistakes for candy
  • Parent or other caregiver misreading labels.
  • Parent or child deciding to increase the dosage for faster results.
  • Older children trying adult drugs or sharing them with friends, especially if they are facing a big test at school.
  • Giving a young child an over-the-counter medication for colds.

“Good science really shows more risk of toxicity in children less than age 4 from cough and cold medications intended for adults,” Meyer said. “These medicines may seem benign, but if taken in large doses by a young child they can lead to elevated blood pressure, seizures and even strokes.”

Researchers said drug companies need to improve child-proof packaging, such as blister packs, and educating people about potential risks to children.

Meyer also advised parents to pay close attention to drug labels to avoid confusing a dosage, such as .50 for 5.O or even 50, since it’s possible to miss the decimal point. When calling in a prescription to your pharmacy, speak with a clear voice and don’t mumble, to avoid errors in dose or mis-filling prescriptions for similar-sounding medications.

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