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Children Medication Errors Happen Every Eight Seconds

baby face

According to Reuters, children medication errors are so common that they occurred about once every eight minutes from 2002 to 2012. The report, from the journal Pediatrics, was based on a study that examined calls to poison control hotlines. Unlike most earlier studies, the focus was on home medication errors rather than mistakes in prescription dosing or administration in hospitals.

The study focused on reported errors reported to the National Poison Database System that affected children under the age of 6. The national database compiles data from 55 poison control hotlines across the country. Overall, both the number and rate of medication mistakes rose over the course of the study. The one exception was in cough and cold medicines. According to one of the study’s authors, this is evidence that a comprehensive campaign against using those products has paid off.

Consequences of children’s medication errors

According to the study, more than 63,000 children experience medication errors each year but the severity of the errors varies dramatically. In most of the reported cases, the children did not require any medical attention. But at the other end of the spectrum, over the course of the study, 25 children died from the errors. Child medication errors are also associated with injuries and increased healthcare costs.

Some of the factors that made medication errors more common include:

  • Young age – infants under one year old accounted for about one quarter of the medication errors
  • Distraction – the most common mistake was when a frazzled parent or caregiver gave a second dose of pain medicine

Overmedication in children is more dangerous than in adults – children’s bodies are still developing and the difference in absorption rates can lead to a lower tolerance for an overdose of medication. Unfortunately, medication dosing for children is also more complex because it is based on a number of factors like age, weight, and height.

Medication errors are preventable

While many medication errors end up being harmless, others cause injury or even death. The good news is that parents and other caregivers can prevent these accidents by following safety precautions.

Some recommended tips include:

  • Use a proper measuring cup or syringe– kitchen spoons are not accurate enough to know that you are giving the correct dose
  • Give doses based on weight rather than age – and if the medication only lists dosage by age, check with your doctor or pharmacist
  • Read labels carefully – for example, not all antibiotics are administered at the same dose so re-check doses if you switch medications
  • Make sure the medications are not expired – drugs with a short shelf life may not work as expected
  • Do not reuse leftover antibiotics – they are meant to be used in full, some have a very short shelf life, and giving a child antibiotics when they are not needed can lead him or her to develop a resistance
  • Do not expect instantaneous results – medicines may take some time, even days, to work, and giving an extra dose will not speed up the recovery