Medicines And Child Safety: Beware Of Overdosing As Medicine Can Kill As Well As Cure

The instructions on the medicine bottle say 5 ml. That’s one teaspoon, right? Wrong! The volume of the average household teaspoon can vary between around 3 ml and nearly 10 ml. Measurements are even shakier if a fraction of a teaspoon is required and never mind about the spillage. It has been suggested that only about nine per cent of medication given to children is dosed accurately. Well, so what?

Medicines can do a lot of damage. According to a report by the National Prescribing Service Limited*, around six per cent of hospital admissions in Australia are due to medication errors. Ten per cent of general practice patients, and 25 percent of high-risk patients, report experiencing an adverse drug event. In money terms, inappropriate medicine use costs around $380 million each year in the Australian public hospital system alone.

Children at Risk

A small study in three different Australian hospitals found that around four per cent of all child admissions were medication related, involving either overdosing or under use of medicines as well as accidental poisonings.

The statistics are sobering. According to Kidsafe, between five and ten children in Australia die from poisoning every year; 140,000 calls are made to the Poisons Information Centres by parents or carers and 3,500 children under five years old are admitted to hospitals because of poisoning.

Kidsafe: “Medicines are associated with the majority of child poisonings. Many result in hospital admissions. Examples include overdoses of cough and cold medicines, paracetamol, antihistamines, heart and blood pressure medication, anticonvulsants.”

Common mistakes with medication

The most common mistakes made involving medicines are:

  • Misreading handwritten prescriptions.
  • Getting the strength or dosage wrong.
  • Medicines with similar names or packaging.
  • Medicine given to the wrong patient.
  • Carer misunderstanding directions.
  • The use of the medicine not monitored properly.
  • The mixing of potentially harmful medicines.

Tips for Administering Medicines to Children Safely

When giving your children medicine, keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure all the doctors attending your child know about everything your child is taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines like cough and cold medicines, and vitamin and herb supplements.
  • Make sure your child’s doctor knows about any allergies and how your child reacts to medicines.
  • Make sure you can read your doctor’s prescription. If you can’t, how can you be sure the pharmacist can?
  • Check that the medicine given to you at the pharmacy matches the one your child’s doctor prescribed.
  • Ask for information about the medicine and be sure you can understand it. For example, how often is my child supposed to take the medicine and for how long? Is this the right dose for my child’s weight? What are the symptoms of overdose? When should I see an improvement? Is this safe to take with other medicines or supplements?
  • Never guess the dose. Use a proper medicine-measuring device for liquid medicines.
  • Ask for written information about the possible side effects of your child’s medication.
  • Report incidents and accidents with medication to the Adverse Medicine Events Line: 1300 134 237.
  • If you need help, call the Poisons Information Centre, telephone 131126. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Medication mistakes can have deadly consequences. To ensure that you treat your child safely, find out about the medicine you are administering, inform your doctor of everything that your child is taking, including vitamins and common ailment remedies. Regard all medicines as potentially dangerous. If in doubt, speak to your pharmacist and never guess dosages.

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The Rise And Fall Of Patent Medicines: How A Women’s Magazine Helped Stop Harmful Quack Cures

The 19th century was the era of P.T. Barnum, when “the suckers” lined up to see the Bearded Lady and the “genuine” Native American and African “savages.” These exhibits may have been more than half chicanery, but at least they didn’t kill anyone.

Patent medicine was different type of charlatanism: It harmed and addicted myriad users until the passage of the first Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The Ladies’ Home Journal had a great deal to do with the outcry against and the abolishment of early over-the-counter medicines that were usually useless and occasionally deadly.

The Birth and Growth of Patent Medicines

Home cures for various ailments had always existed, but it was not until after the U.S. Civil War that they became big business. At the time, doctors were not particularly trusted, sometimes for good reason: As late as the 1870s, Harvard Medical School gave no written exams, since few of its graduates could write very well. Moreover, the war veterans suffered from many illnesses, both physical and combat-stress related; but often had little money to pay a physician.

Along with the ignorance and misery came a boom in so-called patent medicines; a misnomer if there ever was one, since few of the preparations were patented and most had little medicinal value. Their ads were designed to draw in the gullible. Hypochondriacs could always be persuaded to buy; if they did not have a real disease, the ad agencies simply made one up for them. Creeping Numbness, Sparks Before the Eyes, and Dragging Sensation in the Groin all merited their own special and specially priced nostrum.

19th Century Over-the-Counter Addictive Drugs and Poisons

Many of the quack cures contained morphine, cocaine, and high levels of cheap alcohol, sometimes adulterated with deadly wood alcohol. Babies’ soothing syrups were loaded with laudanum (morphine dissolved in alcohol) and cocaine was included in cold medications. Stomach medicines contained mostly rum or grain alcohol; presumably by the time the consumer sobered up, his stomach pain was gone.

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State legislatures and newspaper owners were paid off by the drug companies. Many prestigious ad agencies owned shares of stock in such companies and happily cranked out enticing copy for Painsfoe, Swamp Root, Golden Medical Discovery, and Mandrake Pills.

The Ladies’ Home Journal Exposes Fraudulent Medicines

In 1892, the Journal’s editor, Edward Bok, and owner Cyrus Curtis, decided not to accept any more ads for patent medications. The magazine’s revenue dropped by $300,000.00 per year. In 1896, the New York Times followed the Journal’s example anyway.

Next, the Journal printed detailed chemical analyses of many popular compounds, revealing their useless or detrimental ingredients. Sales of patent medicines began to decline, and Collier’s magazine printed a series on the bribes and kickback schemes that kept lawmakers and physicians silent about the travesty.

The Pure Food and Drug Act

In 1905, the American Medical Association finally lobbied Congress to pass a law controlling the sale of mail order and over-the-counter medicines. Dr. H.W. Wiley crusaded for state regulation of drugs. In 1906, the government took action, resulting in the first Pure Food and Drug Act.

The Act banned misrepresentations in medical advertising and mandated that narcotics and alcohol had to be clearly specified by name and amount included in the product on the label.

The results were not perfect, but the law led to several convictions; and the poison purveyors began to understand that the government was serious about prosecuting them. The charlatans and quacks, many of whom had become multi millionaires, quietly faded away; taking their syrups, bitters, and Anti Dipso one-hundred-percent-guaranteed cures for alcoholics with them.