At the poison control center serving South Florida, we’ve heard a lot of interesting theories about poisoning and poison control centers. In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week, March 20-26, here are seven persistent myths, along with facts to clarify how your child can be exposed to poisons.
▪ Myth: Prescription pill bottles are “child proof.”
Fact: It’s not unusual for the poison center to receive a call from a parent who gave a pill bottle to a child to use as a rattle. You can guess what happened next. The safety caps mandated by the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970 are only required to be “child resistant.” This is defined as keeping 80 percent of kids out of the package for 10 minutes. That means up to 20 percent of children tested were able to access the bottle’s contents within that time span.
Tip: Don’t rely on any type of safety packaging to protect your child. Instead, keep prescription bottles out of reach of little hands, preferably in a locked box or cabinet.
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▪ Myth: If I only use natural products in the home, we won’t be at risk of poisoning.
Fact: Natural does not mean non-toxic. Even products marketed as “green” have the potential to poison if used incorrectly. Choosing lower toxicity products is a good idea, but if you clean the house, eat food, breathe air or take medicine, you are potentially at risk for poisoning.
Tip: Keep all cleaning products stored in an upper cabinet — rather than underneath the sink — to keep poisons out of reach of children.
▪ Myth: My child or teen isn’t interested in toxic products, medications or alcohol.
Fact: At the poison control center, we hear these comments every day. A parent is shocked that their child was poisoned because he or she “has never been interested in that before.” By nature, children are curious and learn quickly from their peers. As parents, our job is to limit access to dangerous items, model safe and responsible behavior, and be ready to act when something goes wrong.
Tip: Talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, but also err on the side of caution and keep these items either locked up or out of the house.
▪ Myth: All you need to do for a poisoning is to give a child milk.
Fact: Milk is not magic. This extremely dangerous belief is especially common in South Florida. In the secure database used by poison centers, there are more than 500,000 poisons. There is no single antidote to all of them. The only thing to do for any poisoning is to seek expert medical advice.
Tip: Save the poison control hotline phone number — 1-800-222-1222 — to your phone or post it on your refrigerator so in an emergency you’re not searching for it and wasting valuable time.
▪ Myth: Calling poison control can get you in trouble with child protective services.
Fact: A call to any poison control center is completely confidential because it is covered under the 1996 Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Poison centers do not share your personal information with police or child protective services.
Tip: Most poisonings are accidents and are not an indication of abuse or neglect, so parents shouldn’t feel guilty or scared to seek help.
▪ Myth: If your kids are over 5 you don’t need to worry about poisoning anymore.
Fact: Sadly, most fatal child poisonings now occur in teenagers. Poisonings take the lives of roughly 27 kids between the ages of 5 and 19 each year in Florida, as opposed to four children under the age of 5. Parents need to stay vigilant for signs of medication misuse, underage drinking and other toxic habits that can form in the early teen years. Again, limiting access to medication and alcohol is key.
Tip: Signs that your child may be abusing a controlled substance include bloodshot eyes, nosebleeds, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, weight loss, impaired coordination, trouble at school, missing money, sudden mood changes, and becoming withdrawn or demanding more privacy.
▪ Myth: I’m a good parent, so my kids are safe.
Fact: A poisoning incident can happen in an instant and is not necessarily a reflection on a parent’s abilities or love for their kids. Poison centers, which are open 24/7, routinely get calls from people who feel like terrible parents. But the fact is, getting immediate, expert help from a poison control center is an example of good parenting.
Tip: Accidents happen. Your best defense to prevent a tragedy is to have a good offense. Visit floridapoisoncontrol.org to learn how you can better protect your kids and respond in an emergency.
Wendy Stephan is the Health Education Coordinator and Richard Weisman, Pharm.D., is the Director of the Florida Poison Control Center – Miami, located at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.