Preventing Accidental Overdose of Meds for Children

Any medication (even over-the-counter drugs) can become deadly when taken in large amounts or in combination with other chemicals. Liquid medications taken by mouth (called oral dosing) are formulated for ease of swallowing. This is helpful for the elderly, anyone with difficulty swallowing, and children.

With liquid drug products, there is a grave concern that children will be given too much of a good thing. There are printed directions with each bottle but not all parents and caregivers can read or understand the directions. Older adults (when taking the medication or giving it to a child) may not be able to see the small print.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided guidance for dispensing over-the-counter drugs. Drug companies that make liquid medications follow these guidelines by providing a cup, dropper, syringe, or spoon to measure out the right dose.

Devices provided in the package must have clear markings with dosage directions properly labeled. In fact, the labeling must still be clearly visible even after the medication has been put into the device.

Warnings must be provided that these devices (spoons, syringes, cups, droppers) must not be used for any other medication. The dispensing device must only be used with the medication it comes with.

Pharmacists, physicians, and other health care professionals who dispense medications are advised to pass on these important safety tips to their patients (or the patient’s caretakers):

  • Before dispensing any medication, read the labels carefully. If the print is too small to see easily, use a magnifying glass. Read and review directions three times before taking them yourself or giving them to someone else.
  • Make sure the medication being given is the right one for that person. It is very easy to put drops meant for the ears into the eyes by mistake or to give someone a digestive aid instead of a cold medicine.
  • Never take yourself or give to someone else a medication that was not prescribed or intended for that person. Don’t give or take more than is recommended. Doubling or tripling the dose is a big No-No without your physician’s direct approval.
  • Never mix drugs (take two or more at the same time) without first discussing this with your pharmacist or physician. The unintended consequences can cost a life.
  • Use child-resistant caps on all drugs kept anywhere in the house where children live (even if the medication isn’t for the child). Store all medicines in a safe (inaccessible to children) place.
  • Do use the dosing device provided (spoon, dropper, syringe, cup). Use it exactly as described by the pharmacist, physician, or according to the written instructions.
  • If you don’t remember what you were told, you don’t understand the directions, or you have any questions at all, contact your pharmacist, and/or physician first before taking or giving the drug. This step takes time but it could save a life.

    Following these simple guidelines can go a long way in preventing accidental overdoses of common over-the-counter (OTC) medications used for colds, digestive problems, pain, and other problems.

    If any problems occur, you can report them to the Food and Drug Administration’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. Call 800-332-1088 for the special form to fill out. You can also go on-line and make a report at Any side effects or problems with product quality should be reported in order to prevent similar problems for others.