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How To Keep Medicine Safe In Your Home

Understanding Medicine Safety

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on January 3, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), approximately 50,000 children under the age of 5 end up in emergency rooms or urgent care centers each year due to poisoning by medications that were left unsafely within their reach.

Nearly every home has some kind of over the counter or prescription medication in it, but even medicines sold over the counter can be extremely dangerous for infants, toddlers, adolescents, and teenagers when used improperly. It is just as important to keep all types of medicines and supplements safe and secure where children of all ages cannot reach them, just as you would lock away dangerous chemicals, firearms, or other items that can potentially harm your child.

When it comes to understanding medicine safety, it’s critical that you understand how to keep medicine safe in your home.

Dangers for Infants and Children

If you have a young child in your home, you already know how curious your child is. Very young children, particularly infants and toddlers, are naturally curious about the world around them and tend to put pretty much everything they can find into their mouths as part of the process of understanding the world around them. When it comes to medicine that is not properly stored, this behavior can be downright dangerous.

Medications, particularly those intended for children, often look and taste like candy in order to encourage children to take their medication when they don’t feel well. As a result, your child may try to seek out these medicines because they liked the taste or texture.

If your child consumes too much, there can be serious health consequences, even if the medicine they are taking is intended for children and normally safe. For example, medicines containing acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage when too much is consumed.

Worse still are prescriptions, over the counter medicines, and vitamins intended for adults. Consuming even one or two pills of common medicines such as opioid painkillers, heart medicines, diabetes medications, prenatal vitamins, or controlled substances can be fatal for infants and toddlers.

Dangers for Adolescents and Teenagers

Adolescents and teenagers do not have the benefit of fully formed decision making capabilities like adults do, but they are much more easily able to find and take medicine in your home. With abuse of prescription medicines on the rise in general, your child may experience peer pressure around the use of these drugs.

While you may think that you’re safe from the risk of medicine dangers once your child is old enough to avoid accidentally ingesting medicine, teenagers and adolescents also need protection from medicine. In these age groups, keeping tight control over controlled substances like stimulants (including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] medications), sleeping pills, opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medications (including benzodiazepines like Xanax or Ativan), and some antidepressants is especially important.

How to Keep Medicine Safe in Your Home

Keeping medicine safe in your home requires constant vigilance, particularly around very young children, but it is possible to take steps to minimize the risk of an accidental overdose of prescriptions and over the counter medications as well as supplements and vitamins.

Safe Medicine Storage

The first step to keeping kids safe is to keep medicines of all types out of their reach and sight.

Before choosing a place to store medications, walk around your house to get an idea of possible areas that would be safe. You’ll want to choose a storage spot that children cannot reach or even see so that they aren’t tempted to try to find a way to get to the medicine. Places like cabinets that are located high overhead, such as over the refrigerator, are a good choice.

Next, consider purchasing a small safe or lockable container that you can keep your medicines in. This is particularly important if you are having difficulty finding a place to keep the medicine out of your child’s reach and sight and need to choose a lower spot.

Regardless of whether you choose to use a lockbox or not, keep all medicines, including over the counter medicines, in their original packaging when stored. Get child safety locks or latches to help prevent your child from opening the cabinet doors, but do not rely on these as fool proof, as they can fail or break. All medicines should be stored in containers with child safety caps, when possible.

After using the medicine, remember to put it back in the safe storage location right away. You should never leave medicine out, even if you plan to use it again in a few hours. Your child should never be left alone with medicine of any kind. If you don’t have time to put the medicine away before heading off to another task, take the medicine with you. Ask anyone visiting your home to make sure that they keep any items that may contain medicine, such as purses, backpacks, or jackets, in a safe place where your child cannot reach them.

Safe Medicine Use

It’s also important to use medicine safely, including when using it personally or when giving it to your child. Medicine should always be taken over a bathroom sink or away from common areas of the home so that you do not run the risk of losing a pill in case you accidentally drop one. If your child finds the pill later and eats it, it could be dangerous or even life threatening. Any spilled medicine should be cleaned up immediately.

While it can be hard to get your child to take medicine sometimes, it’s critical that you never refer to medicine as candy or any other type of appealing name. Doing so increases the likelihood that your child may try to access medicine whenever they can, thinking that the medicine is a special treat.

Make sure to always give your child the proper dose of their medicine using the measuring device that comes with the medicine. You should never use a regular kitchen spoon or serving utensil, as they come in different sizes.

Most child medicine overdoses occur as a result of parents giving their child the wrong dose of medicine by accident. Make sure to only give medicine at the prescribed intervals listed on the label, as giving more medication too soon can cause a potential overdose, while giving the medicine too late can cause it to be ineffective.

Always use medications that are formulated for children and never use an adult over the counter medicine at a lower dose. Children process medicine differently than adults and take different dosages and concentrations of active ingredients.

If your child has difficulty taking pills, make sure to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before mixing their medicine with food or liquid, as not all medicine can be safely combined with foods and beverages. If you are able to mix medication into a food or beverage, make sure that your child consumes the entire thing to get the right dose of their medicine.

Avoid Unnecessary Medicines

When your child is sick, it is natural to want them to feel better quickly. However, not every symptom or situation requires medication, so it is important to avoid unnecessary medicine.

For example, if your child has recovered from an illness but still has a lingering cough that is not bothering them, they generally do not need to take cough medicine. Similarly, if your child has a low-grade fever or is not uncomfortable with a fever, it may not be necessary to reduce their fever with a fever reducing medication. Fevers help the body to fight infection, and unless they are extremely high or are making your child very uncomfortable, you may not need to use medication.

Ask your child’s doctor if you have questions about the use of medicine when symptoms are only very mild.

It is also best to avoid giving multiple medicines that each treat a variety of symptoms, such as cold medicines that contain multiple active ingredients in one bottle. While convenient, it can be challenging to understand which active ingredients you have already given your child and what actual dose they have received of each ingredient.

If your child has taken a cold medication containing acetaminophen for pain, for example, you would not want to also give them acetaminophen as a fever reducer.

Safely Dispose of All Medicines

The final step in keeping medicine safe in your home is to dispose of all medicines safely. If possible, always take unused medicines to a safe disposal location, such as a participating pharmacy, police department, or doctor’s office.

If you do not have access to a safe disposal location, mix the unused medicine with an unappealing substance, such as used coffee grounds, cat litter, or soil, and pack it in a sealed bag or container before disposing of it in your trash can.


Even over the counter medicines can be dangerous to a child. Keep medicine safe in your home by storing all medications and supplements out of the sight and reach of children, giving medications in the proper dose, avoiding the use of unnecessary medicines, and safely disposing of all medications.