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Keep meds far from kids

Don't let unsecured pills make it a tragic holiday.

Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, and Jeanette Trella, managing director of the Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote this for the Checkup blog on and

For many, the holidays will feature traditional family gatherings that are joyous occasions.

But your cheer will quickly fade if a child gets into unsecured medicines and requires a trip to the emergency department.

Sometimes, even after taking just a few pills, a child can appear perfectly fine until it's too late.

Tragically, that was the case for a 2-year-old who took two to four tablets of her grandmother's Norvasc, prescribed for high blood pressure and chest pain.

The child did not appear to have any symptoms initially. When she became very drowsy 45 minutes later, the family rushed her to the hospital. But it was too late. Her blood pressure was already dangerously low, and despite efforts to save the child, her heart rate kept dropping, and she died.

Poisonings today are often due to medicines that look and taste like candy, medicine patches that fall off or are taken from sleeping adults and ingested or applied to skin, and medicines in chewing gum or Tic-Tac-like pellet form.

Sometimes medicines are stored in a way that makes access too easy for children. For example, they're put in easy-to-open containers like a daily or weekly pill dosing box, or aren't kept out of reach.

The holidays are a particularly risky time for childhood poisonings. People visit friends and relatives, and it's easy to let your guard down.

Be sure to keep medicines in a secure cabinet, locked if possible, but at a minimum up and away from the reach of children. Never leave medicines on counters or tables, including children's vitamins and iron supplements. Use child-resistant caps on containers and be sure they are closed properly after use.

Note that "child resistant" does not mean "child proof." Children can sometimes defeat safety caps, so keep medicines up and away, and out of sight.

In 2012, the Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia received nearly 30,000 calls regarding potential poisoning of children under 6 in Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. They included more than 2,800 calls involving pain medications, including the very dangerous opioids.

If a child shows symptoms or acts strangely for any reason, don't take a chance. Call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 immediately.