Tips to Prevent Accidental Overdose in Children


September is National Recovery Month and is aimed at educating on treatment and recovery for those with substance use disorder. This September, a significant step was made towards making a lifesaving medication, naloxone, more readily available. Naloxone can save the life of someone experiencing an overdose due to opioids. A few common names for opioid medications include hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl. While opioids are most often prescribed for adults, accidental overdose in children can occur by a small child getting into a medication or an older child trying opioids recreationally. The hydrocodone prescribed for wisdom tooth surgery can quickly become fatal when it gets into the wrong hands.

In 2018, over 50% of overdoses in children were due to opioids, and 65% of the deaths occurred at home. I know it’s something none of us want to think about, and all of us prefer to think, “My child would never” or “My child’s friends would never.” However, the recreational use of opioids is at an all-time high. According to the CDC, 14% of adolescent students have reported using an opioid recreationally. As parents, we learn how to perform CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the reality is parents should also know what to do in a situation when their child, or a friend of your child, may be experiencing an opioid overdose.

To help save the life of someone experiencing an opioid overdose, you can carry naloxone to administer in an emergency. Naloxone (NARCAN®) nasal spray is now available over-the-counter (OTC), without a prescription, in an easy-to-use nasal spray. Naloxone works in minutes by blocking the physical effects of an opioid. Naloxone only works on opioids. Therefore, it cannot hurt someone experiencing a medical emergency due to a non-opioid cause. The signs of an opioid overdose include slowed or stopped breathing, drowsiness or unconsciousness, a pinpoint pupil or small pupil, choking or gurgling noises, blue tint or discoloration to the hands or feet, cold or clammy skin, and a limp body. Good Samaritan Laws are in place to protect bystanders who help others in a medical emergency. If you need to administer naloxone, use the following steps:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Administer naloxone
  3. Scan the area for your safety
  4. If safe, try to keep the person awake or roll the person onto their side to prevent choking
  5. If safe, stay with the person until emergency services arrive

In addition to the steps you can take to be prepared in case of an accidental opioid overdose in children, Safe Kids Worldwide provides measures to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning from any medication.

  1. Keep medications out of the reach of children by storing them at counter height or higher.
  2. Consider all places a child may be able to get into, such as purses, drawers, bags, nightstands, and briefcases.
  3. Don’t forget that medications include non-prescription medications such as vitamins, supplements, herbal products, creams, ointments, over-the-counter medications, and eye drops.
  4. Use child-resistant packaging whenever possible. Child-resistant does not mean child-proof. However, the purpose is to slow down the time it takes for a child to get into something.
  5. When using children’s medications, use the proper dosing devices. Proper dosing devices include dosing cups and dosing syringes. Do not use household spoons or measuring cups.
  6. Follow the directions on the medication label or box, and only deviate from these directions under the instruction of your child’s medical provider.
  7. Dispose of medications safely. You can find medication drop-off boxes, medication safety disposal pouches, or use National Drug Takeback days.
  8. Teach children about medication safety. Explain to young children that medications should only be given by adults. Talk to your older children about the dangers of recreational drug use.
  9. Write clear instructions about your children’s medications for caregivers.
  10. Save the Poison Control number in your phone and post it in your home. The Poison Control number is 1-800-222-1222.

The reality is medication overdoses are accidental, but accidents can happen in an instant. With the rise in prescribing of medications and the dangers of recreational drug use, it is important to be prepared in case of emergency. If you would like to learn more about naloxone or how to administer naloxone, the CDC has resources and videos on its website. If you know someone struggling with substance abuse, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. A life that is saved is a life that can recover, and naloxone is a way you can be prepared to save a life for accidental overdose in children or adults.