“I want ice cream!” My four year old daughter, Abby, had spotted her two year old brother Dan wolfing down the last of the ice cream under the watchful eye of mom and dad. This was unheard of in the middle of the day. Ice cream was an after dinner treat only.

My response to her stated desire left her even more baffled. “No, Abby, Dan needs to eat all of it because he was bad.” Dan looked up from his ice cream and smiled happily at his sister while Abby looked at me in total bewilderment. Realizing what I had just said, I explained, “Abby, Dan got into mom’s medicine and he needs some ice cream to keep him from getting sick.” I’m not sure that really clarified things for Abby and she was probably wondering how she could get ahold of some of mom’s meds to earn some middle-of-the-day ice cream herself.

How had we gotten to this crazy moment? While I was at work, my wife had gotten distracted after taking her thyroid medicine and put the bottle in an accessible place. Danny, ever vigilant to opportunities, had gotten ahold of this bottle of little items that mom obviously seemed to like. As his mom turned back around and spotted him, it was obvious he had gotten at least one or two pills, maybe more.

A quick call to me and to Poison Control (800-222-1222) and she was told he needed milk. One problem: at the time Dan hated milk. The solution: ice cream. In the end Dan was fine and it was just a funny story – although one that further ramped up our vigilance of medicines and other potential poisons. For some unintentional medication poisonings the results are anything but funny.

Exposure to poisons is a common problem. The incidence of poisoning in the United States is approximately 4 million cases per year, with 300,000 cases leading to hospitalization, and approximately 30,000 deaths. More than 1 million of these poison exposures are among children younger than six years of age. Because not all poisoning exposures are reported to poison control centers, these numbers are certainly an underestimate. Perhaps not surprisingly, over 90 percent of poisoning exposures occur at home.

A hefty percentage of the poisonings in children are prescription medications. The biggest offenders are sleeping pills, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety medicines, heart medicines diabetes medicines and pain relievers. A single verapamil (blood pressure med), glipizide (diabetes med) or methadone (narcotic pain reliever) can be enough to kill a toddler.

Another major source of unintentional poisoning in children is iron supplements. Those tasty chewable vitamins or gummies can be all too tempting and are anything but safe. That goes for acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen and other over-the-counter meds.

So what can you do?

  • Be sure your medications are in child proof containers and replace the top and put the bottle in an inaccessible place every time.
  • Watch out for older siblings helping little ones to get their hands on meds.
  • Be vigilant when your child is staying elsewhere such as a grandparent’s house where they may not be as careful about putting medications in a safe place
  • Have the Poison Control Center number entered in your phone and on your fridge (800-222-1222). Call them immediately if a possible ingestion has occurred.
  • Watch out for purses and pillboxes of visitors that curious toddlers will be tempted to pilfer.
  • Flush or otherwise properly dispose of unwanted or expired meds
  • Treat vitamins, supplements, and other over-the-counter meds with just as much caution as your prescriptions.

So, here’s hoping you can let your kids enjoy a middle-of-the-day treat just for fun and not because they found a way into your meds. It’s a hard job, but stay vigilant!

Andrew Smith, MD is board-certified in Family Medicine and practices at 1503 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Contact him at 982-0835