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Under 5s poisoning risk

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Under 5s most at risk from poisoning but pharmacy assistants can help by talking to parents

A 10-year study found poisoning was most common among in young children aged 5 years or less whether from swallowing medications or other toxic substances

Young children do not recognise the hazard associated with medicines. A recent study by Poisons Information Centres state young children remain a problem and ongoing targeted strategies are needed to reduce therapeutic errors and to prevent access to medicines by young children.

Toni Riley, project manager of the Return of Unwanted (RUM) Project says it is really important to educate parents about the safe storage of medicines and the risks posed to young children.

“Many medicines are attractive colours and shapes to small children, so it is important to keep them out of reach and well out of harm’s way – we all know horror stories of children getting into things that they should not do! Just being in a high place if often not enough – child-proof locks may be needed as well,” Ms Riley said.

“Pharmacy assistants generally know their customers quite well and should be able to pick who would benefit from some additional information and of course it can always be supported with a RUM brochure (available on request from

 “But, of course, the best way to ensure safety is just not to keep any medicines that are no longer required –  even if not out of date it is still the most prudent action to take the medicines to the local pharmacy for safe disposal. The local pharmacy will have a RUM bin and any medicines can be disposed of in this manner – it does not have to be medicines that were dispensed or purchased at that particular pharmacy.”

Toni has these tips for pharmacy assistants to give to customers about storing meds safely:

  • It is not necessary to keep all medicines in the fridge – and it’s a very easy place for children to access them as well
  • It is best not to keep medicines in the bathroom cabinet – steam from the hot water is not great for medicines
  • Do not keep medicines above the fridge or stove – it gets too hot.
  • It is best to store medicines in a locked receptacle that is kept in a safe place that is not easy for children to access ( i.e. climb up to)
  • Cleaning out the medicines storage areas regularly is also important – we know many people have not heard of the RUM Project, so it is always a good opportunity when a patient is buying a medicine to mention the safest way to dispose of any medicines that are expired or out of date – bring them back to the pharmacy.

Toni says that people don’t realise that putting meds in the garbage or down the drain is bad for the environment—they don’t just ‘disappear’.

“Putting medicines into the rubbish bin or down the drain is not good for our environment – we don’t want ( or need) medicines to make their way into our water supply; so the most appropriate thing to do is bring all unwanted medicines back to the pharmacy for disposal. These unwanted medicines are incinerated as required by the EPA,” she says.

“Privacy is maintained always – the pharmacy does not record any returned medicines and the incineration facility incinerates the sealed RUM bin intact when received.”

She adds when a new med is dispensed it’s a good time to talk to that customer and safety and disposal.

“I always  mention to the patient that if they have any of their old medicine left, we have a RUM bin available for them to dispose of it, safely,”

For more information on RUM, go to

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