Medications, including vitamins, are not candy, but they taste enough like it to send 60,000 children to the emergency room(www.cdc.gov) every year. In response to this disturbing statistic, the CDC and various partners -- including the AAFP -- are unveiling a new campaign(www.cdc.gov) focused on improving children's medication safety through parent and caregiver education.
Part of a larger public/private partnership known as the PROTECT initiative(www.cdc.gov), the Up and Away and Out of Sight educational campaign(www.upandaway.org) will provide family physicians and other health care professionals with the tools they need to help inform their patients about the dangers of leaving medications out on low tables and counters and within reach of curious little hands.
According to Barbara Kostick, M.D., of Newark, Calif., who serves as the AAFP representative to Up and Away, the campaign can help family physicians reduce the number of adverse drug events that happen each year in the United States.
First convened by the CDC in 2008, PROTECT has pulled together a large group of stakeholders, including other government agencies; members of the pharmaceutical industry; consumer groups; medical professional organizations, such as the Academy; and others, to examine the problem of medication overdose in children and come up with manageable solutions, said Kostick. It is in large part because of its work with PROTECT that the Academy adopted a new policy on standardized measurement of liquid medications earlier this year.
"We've seen which groups are most affected by unintentional overdose," Kostick said. "For children ages 0-5, unintentional overdose happens for one of two reasons: either the parents are unaware and give children the wrong dosage, or the kids find the medications -- which often taste like candy -- and take them themselves.
"This is immensely important to FPs because we see these parents and their children every day at their well and sick visits," she added. "And frankly, I was shocked at what I've learned since becoming involved with this project -- just how many people did not know about the proper way to give these medications."
According to the CDC, Up and Away aims to educate families using a three-pronged strategy:
- remind parents and caregivers about safe medication storage;
- provide parents and caregivers with information and tools to keep children safe; and
- encourage parents and caregivers to take action to safeguard children.
In addition to educational messages included on the Up and Away website, the program also will provide a printed public service announcement, an informational pamphlet, a doctor's office poster, a tip sheet, a video and coloring pages.
"By providing these materials and resources for parents and caregivers while simultaneously sharing this information with health care professionals, the media and third-party organizations, we are helping spread the message of the importance of safe medicine storage," said the CDC in a communication to the campaign's partners.
Kostick said that the data she has seen from Up and Away-sponsored focus groups show that a good portion of parents, regardless of educational background, become confused about the dosage recommendations when giving their child medication.
"In so many cases, a teaspoon is not really a teaspoon," she said. "If one teaspoon is good, two must be better. It is fascinating how pervasive these myths are in our society. This experience has really opened my eyes to the problem. The key factors here are so important -- keep medications up and out of reach from children and make sure your patients understand what the right amount of medication really is."