One Pill Can Kill – How to Prevent Getting Poisoned

One Pill Can Kill – How to Prevent Getting Poisoned

How to prevent kids from getting poisoned


As an emergency room doctor, I see overdoses of medications pretty frequently.

Unfortunately, many medicines can cause illness and death in children. 

 It’s a tragedy. Often toddlers think medication is candy. Help make your home and child safer. Know the medicines that just one pill can kill and must not be accessible by your child. This is important!

These medications are potentially hazardous for your child. Even a small amount or one single dose has the potential to cause significant illness or even death. 


Pain Medication – Narcotics / Opioids

Example medication names: oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone.

How to know if your child has been poisoned: breathing difficulty, lethargy, death.

Children may be more sensitive to opioid effects than adults. Pain reliever medication is the most frequent cause of medication-induced fatality from accidental ingestion. Luckily there is an antidote for treating an opioid overdose, so it is essential to tell the doctor or paramedics if you suspect an opioid overdose.


Depression medications – Tricyclic antidepressants

Medication names: Imipramine, Amitriptyline, Desipramine.

Dangers in children: arrhythmias, seizures, coma, death.


Antidepressants are the second most common cause of accidental death by poisoning after pain medications.


Muscle ointments or rub – Camphor-containing ointment

They are used for: congestion, muscle aches, cough.

Dangers for children: hyperactivity, seizures, coma, death.

Toxic ingestion for a young child is a mere one teaspoon! However, ingesting one of the ointments can lead to symptoms within 30 minutes. 

Call 911 ASAP if you note the smell of camphor on a child’s breath.


Prescription medicines – Calcium channel blockers

Example medication names: diltiazem, nifedipine, amlodipine.

They are used for: high blood pressure, angina, arrhythmia.

Dangers for children: low heart rate and blood pressure, seizures, death.

A child can become ill even 15 hours after taking a calcium channel blocker. Therefore, treatment is supportive – we give fluids and medication to raise blood pressure if needed.


Aspirin or oil of wintergreen – Called salicylates

Example medication names: methyl salicylate, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA)

They are used for: preventing heart attacks, pain relief, flavoring.

Dangers for children: sweating, seizures, vomiting, lethargy, coma, death.

Even a minimal amount of ASA or oil of wintergreen can kill a child. 4 ml of wintergreen oil may cause death. It smells lovely, and children may be tempted to drink them.


Diabetes medications – Sulfonylureas

They are used for type 2 diabetes management.

Dangers in children: confusion, headaches, seizures, dangerously low blood sugar, coma.

As the rates of diabetes rise, more people have these medications in their homes. Children may have a dip in their blood sugar to dangerously low levels many HOURS after ingestion. Giving these children sugar can be lifesaving.

Expired Prescription drugs One study conducted by the U.S military showed that some medications could retain their potency up to one year after expiration, meaning they are just as dangerous, if not more so than non-expired ones. This is particularly true for those with chronic illnesses who need medication daily and may accidentally take an old pill thinking it’s new or vice versa because there isn’t any distinction between them in most cases.

Please consider who is caring for your children, such as grandparents and other caregivers. For example, I frequently treat toddlers who take medication out of a grandparent’s bag. Ensure that everyone who cares for your child understands these dangers–at your home and their home as well.

Please ask all caregivers who use medications to keep their medicine in a child-safe container or. Keep them locked up and far away from curious children.

Household Cleaners

There are many cleaning supplies and household chemicals that can irritate the eyes, throat or cause headaches. Some of the other chemicals release dangerous, volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some people might use different brands to clean their homes but not be aware they have a chemical allergy until it’s too late because some of these products contain similar toxic substances.


Household Products

Cleaning products are inherently toxic and dangerous. Therefore, it is important to do your research before purchasing any product, as some combinations of common household cleaners can be deadly.

Make an effort to read the labels and avoid mixing certain ingredients such as ammonia with bleach, vinegar with bleach, rubbing alcohol mixed bleach. 



Are young children more at risk of poisoning?

Young children are at the highest risk of fatal poisonings when they’re new to walking and exploring. The danger is even greater for toddlers – around their second birthday, young kids become more mobile and can get hold of poisons often left in dangerous places like under kitchen sinks or bathroom counters.


What is the poison control centers number?

National Poison Control Hotline Call (800) 222-1222


How do I prevent poisoning?

  • Follow this for poison prevention:
  • Keep all household products in their original containers.
  • Locked up chemicals in a safe place. (child-resistant containers)
  • Never mix chemicals.
  • Double-check seals on containers and labels for prescription medicines before ingesting them or giving them to your children –
  • never call medicine “candy.”
  • Dispose of old medications, so they don’t get into the wrong hands.

What do I do if my child is poisoned?

If poisonings occur, follow these steps:

  • Call the poison control center or 911
  • Remove any clothes which may be contaminated with the substance
  • Follow the advice of poison control. DO NOT induce vomiting or feed your child anything unless on the advice of poison control or 911.



Dr. Dina Kulik, Parent Playbook


Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

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