Candy or Medicine??? Help Prevent Accidental Poisonings in Young Children

By: Jana L. Davidson, Education Content Specialist for Progressive Agriculture Foundation

Many times when we think about poison safety, the thought of household cleaners & chemicals first come to mind; however, medications if placed in the wrong hands can be dangerous & even deadly! While we keep medications and vitamins in convenient areas, like near the bathroom or kitchen sink or on a nightstand, they could be posing a major threat to the children in our lives. Annually, about one million phone calls are made to the Poison Control Center because their child ingested something poisonous.

Eight years ago, I began hosting a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day for elementary school students in Clearfield County, as well as helping out with those offered in neighboring counties. Although our programs are geared towards youth, I was shocked at what I discovered through a chemical safety & poison look-a-like station we offered. Many medications currently on the market resemble popular candy, from M & M’s & Skittles that look like Coricidin to Hershey’s Chocolate that resemble an Ex-Lax to Gummy Bears that look like Vitamins. During the safety days, I was amazed that when I opened my mock-medicine cabinet the children had a very difficult time telling the difference between what was a medicine and what was a candy. It didn’t just stop with the medicine & candy, but the children struggled to distinguish juices and sports drinks, like Powerade and Gatorade, from cleaning and personal products like dish soap, window cleaner, mouthwash, and multi-surface cleaners. According to a 2012 study by Safe Kids Worldwide, approximately 165 young children in the United States visit the emergency room daily after getting into medications. 95% of these cases are children under the age of 5 that ingested medication while unsupervised and the other 5% are due to errors in medication dosages. Therefore, 100% of these cases could have been prevented or avoided! As a parent, this really opened my eyes to the dangers that can be found right in the home. It makes you think about all the measures you go through to keep your children safe, yet there are hidden hazardous right under our nose. Did you ever notice how Comet Cleaner resembles a can of grated Parmesan cheese or chewing tobacco looks like beef jerky or plant food looks like candy sticks? How can we expect a young child to tell the difference? This is scary and it is important to educate our kids about the dangerous of mistaken one of these items for another! Although from 1979 to 2006, the poisoning death rate was cut in half, the poisoning deaths from medication rose from 36% to 64% according to Safe Kids.

Another scary thought is the fact that children’s medication has changed over the years. There have been positive changes with the variety of flavors, from bubble gum to blue raspberry and everything in between, now available to get the most stubborn child to take their medication. Unfortunately this can be a negative when children identify their medication flavors as “yummy” or similar to their favorite candy. Therefore, what can we do to protect our children and prevent accidental overdoses or ingestion from happening? First, always use child-resistant packaging and secure the bottles after use. Secondly, keep all medications locked up and out of sight. Third, when cleaning, gardening, or taking medications be sure to watch children closely. Fourth, be sure to keep original labels on all products and make sure to properly identify medicine and dosage instructions before taking or administrating. Fifth, educate your children using the iconic Mr. Yuk stickers to identify potential poisonous products. This is very helpful to younger children, especially those who cannot yet read, but can associate Mr. Yuk with harmful products. Sixth, never share prescription drugs or medication with anyone other than who they are prescribed to. Finally, keep the number for the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222 or search for local chapters) posted in a visible, central, and easy to find place so babysitters and other family members can locate it if an emergency arises. For additional information, go to the American Association of Poison Control Centers at

In addition to keeping your children and loved ones safe, it is important to keep your community safe as well by disposing of medications properly. Follow FDA (Food & Drug Administration) & ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) guidelines for disposing of drug and medications or talk to a pharmacists if in doubt. Take advantage of community take-back programs, where you can take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. If there are no specific recommendations for disposal or you are permitted to throw your drugs away in the trash, take them out of the bottle and mix with undesirable items or place in a baggie or can to avoid them getting eaten by a pet or child and to avoid leakage. Also, before discarding your bottles, be sure to remove all personal information from the bottle to avoid identify theft.

These safety tips are examples of what children learn when they attend Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, which are held each year in more than 400 local communities throughout North America. Learn more about our farm Safety Day programs at

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