CPSC Highlights Surge in Child Poisonings from Narcotics, Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen

Nearly 100 children died from medication poisoning incidents in 2022, according to warnings issued by CPSC as part of National Poison Prevention Week.

A new federal report warns that an increasing number of children are being unintentionally poisoned by narcotic drugs and several popular over-the-counter pain killers, including Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen).

The number of children who died after unintentional drug poisonings has increased by 66% since 2021, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) 2024 Annual Report on Pediatric Poisoning Fatalities and Injuries, which was published March 18.

The report highlights the risks associated with childhood poisonings from narcotic drugs, both prescription and illegal, as well as common medications that many families do not perceive as a serious risk, and the the number of problems experienced by children nationwide continues to grow year after year, CPSC researchers warn.

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The report indicates that 98 children under the age of five years old died from unintentional drug poisoning in 2022, two-thirds more than in 2021.

The CPSC warns medications pose a serious risk to children, including accidental deaths, when children inadvertently get into drugs meant for adults.

Drug poisoning deaths among children have increased steadily since 2018, when there were 17 deaths due to drug poisonings, the lowest seen since 1972. However, in 2022, there were more than 68,000 emergency room injuries involving children and drug poisonings reported. This is represents a 10% increase since 2021 alone.

“The recent rise in pediatric poisonings is heartbreaking,” CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said in a press release. “Keeping drugs, as well as cleaning supplies, laundry packets, and button batteries safely out of reach is vital to protecting children. The CPSC is committed to preventing such tragedies by enforcing laws requiring safe packaging of poisonous substances, holding companies accountable for selling deadly products, and arming caregivers with information on how to keep their little ones safe.”

Federal researchers said the increase is largely linked to narcotic opioid medications, such as OxyContin, which have caused widespread addiction problems in communities nationwide. However, widely used over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and Advil are also causing serious injuries for young children, they determined.

While taking a Tylenol or Advil tablet doesn’t pose a risk to an adult, one pill of either medication can lead to toxicity, cause liver damage, and may lead to death for small children. Adult doses of OTC pain relievers are well above doses recommended for children, and even temporary side effects from overdose may include nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, and abdominal pain.

The incidence of drug injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms from Tylenol exposure increased from 4,700 in 2021, to 5,700 in 2022. For Advil, the injuries seen in ERs increased from 2,000 children in 2021 to 3,600 children in 2022. Similarly, for prescription narcotic drugs, ER visits increased from 1,200 children in 2021 to 1,500 in 2022.

The CPSC offered these safety tips to caregivers:

  • Keep drugs and medications safely stored in locked cabinets or locked boxes and out of the reach of children.
  • Keep drugs and medications in child-proof containers and never in unsecured bottles.
  • Discard unfinished or unused drugs and medications properly or through community disposal programs.

In case of emergency, call the national poison help line at 800-222-1222, available 24 hours a day.

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