"Do you remember why we came here last time?" Michael Cales asked his three year old daughter Makenna.
The Cales family had made a frightening rush to Seattle Children's Emergency in Bellevue last fall, when Makenna mistook prescription drugs for candy, while trick-or-treating at her dad's office.
"They brought her in and they hooked her up to the heart rate monitor, and her heart rate was really high, her blood pressure was high. She was running a temperature.," said Cales.
"Kids can absolutely die from this. I think the most important message is calling the poison center and getting to a hospital," said Seattle Children's Toxicologist Dr. Suzan Mazor.
She said new research on child poisoning, just published online in The Journal of Pediatrics, is a wake up call for parents. Researchers led by Dr. Randall Bond, an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children's looked at data from poison centers all across the country between the years 2001 and 2008. They found a 22 percent surge in the number of accidental drug poisonings in kids 5 and under. And the most injuries to kids came from prescriptions.
Dr. Mazor sees the frantic families in the E-R at Seattle Children's.
"Everybody always says the same thing, and I think it's really true, that they only looked away for a second. And everybody feels awful. Nobody ever thinks that this can happen to them," she said.
So why is it happening more often? The study's researchers said the number of people taking drugs has gone up. In their study they found the biggest culprits in accidental poisonings were opioid painkillers, sleeping pills, heart, and high blood pressure medicines.
"We know that even with one dose of some of these medications the children can get very very sick. So it's really important to stay aware," said Dr. Mazor.
That means keeping medicines locked up and out of reach of children. A test with kindergartners showed you can't count on child resistant caps to keep kids safe from pills.
"I got it!" exclaimed one kindergartner as she popped the top off a pill bottle cap.
"We know it's been studied that kids can open these bottles that are supposed to be child resistant. So we need to do better," cautioned Dr. Mazor.
There are blister packs that make getting into pills hard for small children, but so far very few pills come in that type of packaging.
So for now, it's up to parents to keep kids safe.
"Even to the most watchful parents, two seconds is the difference," said Michael Cales.
Makenna was lucky the day of her trip to the E-R. She recovered quickly.
Dr. Mazor said dispose of old medications safely, and talk with caregivers and relatives about keeping medicine out of a child's reach.
We have useful weblinks where you can learn more about safe medicine disposal, and other safety tips. Check out theTake Back Your Meds website for local drop off locations.
The number for poison centers is the same all across the country. It's 1-800-222-1222. Dr. Mazor said it should be on your refrigerator and on your smart phone.