Health + Safety

More Kids Get Poisoned as More Adults Get Medicated

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prescription medicine

They’d treated a teenager who overdosed on antidepressants, and a toddler whose blood sugar plunged after she picked up some diabetes pills on the floor of her aunt’s house.

And Dr. Lindsey Burghardt and Dr. Florence Bourgeois had seen the reports noting that more and more kids were being poisoned by prescription drugs meant for adults.

Other groups had speculated that the rise in poisoning was linked to a big increase in adult prescriptions. Now Burghardt, Bourgeois and colleagues have solidly confirmed the connection – the increase in poisonings correlates directly with the increase in prescriptions being filled.

As Americans get older, heavier and more out of shape, they’re being prescribed more and more medications to lower their blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure – and to treat pain. And new formulations mean medications stay in the body longer.

“We felt like we were seeing so many children with poisonings related to prescription drugs,” says Burghardt, an emergency room doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Other studies had shown a 36 percent increase between 2001 and 2008 in the number of kids hospitalized after taking prescription drugs meant for someone else.

The team used statistics from the National Poison Data System, and compared them to data on prescriptions written for adults using the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys for 2000 through 2009.