The number of children being hospitalized because of prescription opioid poisoning has risen sharply since 1997, especially among toddlers.
baby playing with colored pills
Credit: Aynur_sib/Shutterstock

Time to get some childproof locks on those medicine cabinets, guys. Because according to a new study, the rates of toddlers and preschoolers hospitalized for opioid overdoses has more than doubled in recent years!

In fact, researchers from Yale School of Medicine analyzed national data from the Kids' Inpatient Database on more than 13,000 children ages 1 to 19 admitted to U.S. hospitals for opioid poisoning between 1997 to 2012, and found that overdoses rose more than 100 percent among ALL children during the 16-year period, though the largest percentage increase occurred in the kids ages 1 to 4.

And according to the study, in nearly all those poisonings, the young child was accidentally exposed to a prescription intended for an adult—either they found a stray pill on the floor or in their mother's purse, or they somehow figured out how to open a pill box or bottle. Scary stuff!

"It's a simple message for parents that we can limit so many of these exposures to keep these medications out of these little hands," said study author Julie Gaither, PhD, MPH, RN, who added that drug companies also need to improve their packaging because kids are finding ways to get into "child-proof" bottles. But even that's not enough.

"Our research suggests that poisonings by prescription and illicit opioids are likely to remain a persistent and growing problem in the young unless greater attention is directed toward the pediatric community," she wrote. "A combination of public health interventions (eg, parental education), policy initiatives, and consumer-product regulations is needed to reduce pediatric exposure to opioids."

Until that time, please remember to keep your meds someplace out of reach, and remind all babysitters and extended family members to do the same.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.