New Resources on Promote OTC Drug Safety

October 19, 2016 09:02 am Chris Crawford
[Child playing with medicine]

According to the CDC, about 60,000 children are taken to the ER each year because they consumed medications they shouldn't have had access to.

To educate and remind patients and their caregivers about this danger, the AAFP has received support from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) Educational Foundation to provide OTC drug safety resources on

Much of the information aligns with resources developed for the Up and Away and Out of Sight( educational campaign, in which the CHPA Educational Foundation, the CDC, the AAFP and other groups are partners. Part of a larger public/private partnership known as the PROTECT initiative,( Up and Away and Out of Sight launched in 2011 and aims to provide family physicians and other health care professionals with resources to help remind parents and caregivers about the importance of safe medication storage and inform them about what to do in an accidental ingestion emergency.

Story highlights
  • The AAFP has posted new OTC drug safety resources for patients on
  • The materials focus on proper dosing of children's medications, as well as safe storage and disposal practices.
  • Much of the information aligns with resources developed for the Up and Away and Out of Sight educational campaign the Academy has supported since its inception in 2011.

Jennifer Frost, M.D., medical director for the AAFP Health of the Public and Science Division, told AAFP News the new resources posted on are designed to educate families on how to prevent poisoning of children from medications.

"This includes advice on keeping medicines out of children's reach, how to dispose of medications no longer being used and how to ensure you are giving your child the correct dose of a medicine," she said.

OTC cough-and-cold medications, in particular, are a common cause of unintentional overdose in children, said Frost.

"These medicines should not be used in small children under the age of 4," she warned. "Cold medicines provide little benefit in this age group, but can cause significant harm."

Frost said OTC medication overdose occurs in children for several reasons: "Medicine is measured incorrectly; parents assume the medicine is safe, so give 'more,' thinking it will help their child," she explained. "And cold medicines often have several ingredients that parents may not be aware of."

One of the resources( just added to, in fact, specifically offers "dos" and "don'ts" on giving OTC cough-and-cold medicines to children. Here's a sample of that advice for parents and other caregivers:


  • learn how to read and understand all parts of a medication's drug facts label;
  • look for a medicine that will treat only the symptoms your child has (e.g., if your child only has a runny nose, don't pick a medicine that also treats headache and fever);
  • use the correct measuring device (e.g., a spoon made for measuring medicine, or a syringe or cup) when giving your child the medicine; and
  • store all medicines up and away, out of the sight and reach of young children.


  • share your adult OTC medicine with your child because drugs for adults can be harmful to children;
  • give aspirin or an aspirin-containing medication to a child younger than 18 years, because aspirin can cause a serious illness called Reye syndrome in younger children;
  • combine prescription drugs with OTC medications without being directed to do so by a physician; and
  • use more than one OTC cough-and-cold medicine at a time unless recommended by a physician, because the drugs may have similar active ingredients that, when combined, may cause an overdose. also offers a Q&A on OTC cough-and-cold medicines( that could be helpful to caregivers.

Additional resources added to the website include safe medicine storage tips for parents( and grandparents,( as well as advice for safe storage when traveling with children.(

Finally, to increase the safety of a medicine cabinet, a regular cleanout is recommended, and now offers guidance from the FDA for safe OTC medicine disposal.(

The easy-to-read graphic explains in three easy steps that caregivers should

  1. mix medicines to be discarded with an unpalatable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter;
  2. place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and
  3. throw the container in the household trash.

It's worth noting that this disposal protocol pertains to OTC medications; prescription drugs should be disposed of through a drug take-back program, by submitting them to a DEA-authorized collector or, in certain instances, by flushing them down the sink or toilet.

Related AAFP News Coverage
Up and Away Campaign Focuses on Medication Safety for Children
AAFP Joins CDC Project Aimed at Eliminating Drug Overdoses


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